IT's 12-Step Program for Integration, Alignment

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Baseline Consulting Partner Jill Dyche made a good point in responding to my post last week about " IT's Penance for Integration Sins of the Past." Mind you, I wasn't saying that IT had committed integration sins in the past -- on the contrary, I think most integration problems evolved accidentally.


But in the post, I pointed out that business was likely to view problems as past "sins" just because they don't understand how the problems happened and, frankly, are probably surprised to learn the problems even exist. Bottom line, though, it doesn't matter how a problem evolved. What matters is is fixing it. I wrote, "As 12-step programs like to say, admitting you have a problem is the first step to fixing it."


Dyche pointed out that one of the other 12 steps is making an honest inventory of past sins. Touch´┐Ż. This prompted me to look up the actual 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and other programs and see how far you could carry this analogy for IT.


I'm not trying to belittle the 12 Step programs, but as it turns out, you can carry it pretty darn far -- in fact, you can work through all 12 steps, with a few modifications. Granted, problems with integration aren't an addiction -- but certainly there are some parallels between IT's past attitude toward users and the business and the recommendations of the 12 steps.


In fact, you could call what I've come up with a 12-Step Program for IT/Business Alignment -- through integration.


Let's walk through the 12 steps and see what happens when you modify it for IT:


Step 1. Admit your life has become unmanageable. For integration, IT would modify the wording of this step to say: "We admit we were powerless over silos in the past and that our information silos have become unmanageable."


Step 2. Belief in a greater power than yourself. In AA, this is your concept of a deity, but for IT, the oft-ignored higher power is the business. So, "We believe that putting the business' needs first is a greater power than ourselves and by paying attention to business and its processes, we can restore ourselves to sanity."


Step 3. Turn your life over to the greater power. Here the steps can get a bit redundant, but remember -- it's about slow change and progress. IT could take a lesson from this approach, as well. "We have made a decision to turn our priorities and our work over to the business, as we understand it, rather than the vendors." You'll note the past tense. This is because you can't move on until you've completed each of the steps in order.


Step 4. Inventory your mistakes. Almost every IT-related initiative I've ever covered includes this step, though we tend to call it something else. Whether it's SOA (make an inventory of your applications and possible services) or MDM (make an inventory of your data sources). So, let's just make one big inventory step for integration: "We have made a searching and fearless inventory of our integration problems, data ownership, existing silos and bad technology decisions."


Step 5. Admit to yourselves and others your problem. This is always a hard step, and not one recovering addicts rush into or take lightly. But it is a critical step for moving forward because it gives you and your conscience a clean slate. It doesn't matter that you didn't intend to cause integration problems -- that they evolved -- they're still problems and you've got to acknowledge them if you want to solve them. So, "We have admitted to ourselves and to the business the exact nature of what's wrong with our systems and the flow of data information. "


Step 6. Be ready to have your higher power remove your defects. Again, it sounds redundant, but take a serious look at this question. It implies that you're ready to move forward. Are you? Here's the step for IT: "We will no longer engage in finger pointing but will work with the business to find a solution. We will use proper processes and disciplines to remove all the defects of bad data and integration problems."


Step 7. Ask for help from your higher power. For IT: "We have humbly asked the business to help us by being involved in our new processes and aligning our work with their goals before we talk to vendors." Okay, okay, you get it already. You've got to be ready to fix the mistakes of the past. But, again, it's about attitude. Integration is a mess in part caused by alignment problems and a failure to look at the big picture. Doing that takes help. Are you ready to listen to end users -- do you even have a staff capable of doing so?


Step 8. Make a list of persons harmed and be willing to make amends. You know how integration and data quality problems affect IT. Do you know how they affect the business -- I mean, really affect the bottom line? Time to find out. "We've made a list of all business problems that silos are causing and will create a business plan for changing them."


Step 9. Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. For IT, this means it's time to reach out to business users, own up to your mistakes, and create a partnership with an executive sponsor to resolve problems. "We work with the business to integrate our silos in a language they can understand, except when doing so would unduly burden the business with technical topics and problems that are really our job anyway. We will seek an executive business sponsor for all projects."


Step 10. Continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong, promptly admit it. In IT, projects are never really finished. There's always the quality control and governance loops. This is how you ensure you're delivering what you promised. Ask yourself if this is true: "We have set up a governance system and quality assurance system to review how our systems affect the business. If we make a mistake, we will admit it and fix it, rather than blaming the vendor or the end user."


Step 11. Seek to improve our conscious contact with our higher power. Integration is an ongoing challenge -- as is IT/business alignment. It's not something you do once at the beginning of a project. "We will continue to talk with the business and align ourselves with the business needs. We will continue to integrate new systems, data and applications as they come online."


Step 12. The final step for the official 12 steps is "Having had an awakening as the result of these steps, we will try to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs." In IT, this translates to publicizing your work with the business and others. "We will share our successes and our setbacks with business users and continue to promote the idea of no more silos."


Good luck with your recovery.