Tension Between IT, Business Analysts Causing Problems


I'm the mother of a five-year-old girl and I'm often surprised at the number of social nuisances between her and her friends. Most of the time, my job consists of offering guidance about what is and isn't nice and to occasionally ask, "How would you like it if someone treated you that way?"

Rarely, there's a tricky situation -- like a bully who just wants to be mean to the youngest, weakest kid - but most of the time, the basic precepts of kindness and treating-others-as-you-would-like-to-be-treated go a long way in navigating the treacherous waters of the playground social scene.

I'm beginning to think these precepts would go a long way in the business world, too.

Now, I know it's probably insulting to suggest to adults that they need to go back to playground basics. I mean, adult life is more complicated. This isn't play -- it's the real world. And, doggone it, there's more at stake!

Exactly. All the more reason why we should not, as adults, be acting like five-year-olds, especially in the server room. And yet, this is exactly what seems to be happening between business analyst and IT administrators, according to this recent post, written by Joe McKendrick for Informatica's Perspectives blog.

McKendrick's post focuses on how the tension between business analysts and IT administrators affects data integration. "Just as they say success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration, it can also be said that the success of a data integration project is 10 percent technology and 90 percent chemistry," McKendrick wrote. "And when I say chemistry, I'm not talking about hydrocarbons and nitrates, but the chemistry of people."

A recent TDWI report, "Bridging the Divide: Aligning Analytical Modelers and IT Administrators," inspired McKendrick's post and much of his piece summarizes its findings.

Get this: Analysts are spending upwards of 50 percent of their time basically doing things the IT department could and should assist with, because of the power struggle between business analysts and IT administrators, according to the report.

Business analysts feel the IT department puts up roadblocks that prevent them from getting the data they need. The IT department, for its part, believes it's "safeguarding" the corporate data and ensuring reliable operations, and suspects the business analysts are just being fickle with their requests.

When did "safeguarding" start to mean keeping the data away from those who are supposed to access and use it?

McKendrick's piece gives a great overview of the paper -- really, enough, I think, to get the big picture. But I did download the whole 14-page paper, which noted there are "many incidents that trigger conflict" between these two groups. The most common three are:

  1. Runaway queries
  2. Analytic data sets
  3. Scoring processes

All of this bickering hurts businesses in three major ways, according to the report:

  1. Timeliness suffers.
  2. Model quality suffers. Not surprisingly, business analysts who have to fight IT for information perform fewer iterations of their models, which, of course, leads to very real business problems.
  3. Inefficiency and waste increase. Obviously, if analysts are spending part of their time doing IT's job, guess what's not being done? That's right: the business analysis.

The study attributes this to a culture clash of two distinct cultures: the business culture and the IT culture. And neither side respects how the other side does its job.


To be fair, the IT department has some legitimate concerns about security and operational efficiency.


Still, I can't help but think IT is a little more to blame than the business. Let's be honest here. We've all known IT admins who wield power by withholding or outright denying information simply because they can. They expect business people to do some serious sucking-up before they offer any help, and heaven help you if you dare go over their head.


They're like Dwight, from The Office -- they're power hungry and believe they are the most important person on the team. In their mind, everyone else is expendable. Meanwhile, the rest of the office sees them as capricious and petty dictators.


Unfortunately, many businesses and organizations are at the mercy of these server-room dictators because they haven't bothered to cross-train within the division or, worse, they've hired an entire group of people with the same bullying mindset.


In the past five to 10 years, business people have become more tech savvy, which means they don't have to put up with this mentality. Unfortunately, this report suggests companies now are paying two people to do the same job -- and only one of them is really doing it. McKendrick noted analysts are spending "upwards of 50 percent of their time accessing, exploring, and manipulating data-tasks that the IT department could assist with."


The author of the TDWI report, Wayne Eckerson, offered five suggestions about how to make these two teams play well together. His suggestions include finding a liaison between the two; fostering dialogue through socialization, meetings and formal dialogue; seeking compromises; training, including a buddy system; and implementing virtual sandboxes.


You can read his full descriptions starting on page seven of the report.


Those are all good suggestions. Again, I'm reminded of a recent conflict between my dragon-obsessed daughter and her friend, who wanted to play mommy and baby. I suggested that, as a compromise, they could play both games by being a dragon family. It worked out fabulously and remains a local favorite.


But sometimes, you run into a kid who is just a bully and more interested in power plays than playing. I still don't have a really good solution for dealing with that kid. My best plan is to stay close and be involved, even sitting down to actively participate in the children's play to make sure it's safe and fair for everyone.


This works really well -- for five-year-olds.


But will a similar approach work as well for adults? It depends, and I honestly think solving this problem depends more on IT than the business. If everyone's willing to keep playing and work through disagreements, I'm sure cross-training and virtual sandboxes will help tremendously.


But if someone's just a power-hungry bully, then compromise is not where their interest lies. I once learned the hard way that the only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to the bully.


In this case, I suspect it's going to take the CIO being willing to supervise, referee and insist on fair play. And if that doesn't work, then someone's going to have to be willing to replace the bully with a real team player.