Vendor-speak blurs IT's communication

Vendor-speak has overlaid the language of IT staff when communicating with their business units and may risk project failures and losses to their companies.

Such is the view of Janet Brimson, head of knowledge and learning for information consultancy iFocus, who believes organizations must pay more attention to the building blocks of enterprise information architecture (EIA).

"EIA projects require a commitment in time and money, but the effects of bad EIA can be potentially crippling in terms of lost hours and profits," Brimson said.

Because there is so much input from vendors about products and services, Brimson said, "[IT staff] can no longer discuss business issues objectively and [they] cloud discussions with jargon and 'vendor speak'...this is why people at the top of big business do not ask the hard questions."

To break vendor mind-warp, Brimson - whose company markets knowledge management services, Web design and learning solutions, says CEOs and CIOs must ask four simple, yet crucial, questions about how they manage information.

Firstly, do you know where your information is?

Businesses with siloed communication structures will not know, Brimson said, costing organizations millions every year.

"There are many technological practices that waste money that often go unrecognized. Some of the lesser known causes are a lack of shared data, no information governance, no metadata [and] no enterprise data dictionaries or recordkeeping systems," Brimson said.

Secondly, CIOs and IT managers must ask themselves if they are really putting their users first?

"Businesses may frequently find out their systems are not right for their organization - that they are too complex or not targeted enough. The current logic needs to be turned on its head, so the starting point is the internal and external customer, with the right [models for] infrastructure and applications to support those users' needs."

Thirdly, is IT spending balanced?

"When misunderstanding the users' needs, an organization risks purchasing inappropriate IT infrastructure and applications, which is where they will spend the most money," Brimson said.

She recommends organizations invest 10 to 15 percent of their total IT budget to determine real information needs from data and other concerns. "Organizations spend a lot of money on the development of applications, but little on the quality control, management and further use of the information," for which the application may be used.

Finally, CIOs need to ask, 'can we see the big picture'?

When decision makers can see only parts of an organization's processes, rather than the overall enterprise picture, business demands and technology simply fail to align.

"Getting control of the enterprise picture is essential when considering an overhaul of their EIA. To be done properly it involves a five-year plan with ongoing, lower-level maintenance," Brimson said.

EIA still out of reach

Right or wrong, IT managers are not rushing towards the lofty aims of enterprise information architecture.

Shaun Stanyer, IT manager at Sydney-based retailer Gowings, says EIA would be overkill in his organization.

"Spending time on enterprise information architecture depends on the size of the company. Speaking from a company that's Gowing's size, (four retail outlets) we don't really find we have to pay particular attention to it," Stanyer said.

As for the vendor mind-warp epidemic, Stanyer isn't buying any of that either.

"I would say no...most applications come from a need somewhere in the business ... purchases should be made to meet these needs," Stanyer said, adding that difficult applications just won't cut it with users.

If [users] don't understand it, then it's useless," Stanyer said.

Another IT manager for a large hospitality chain, who asked for anonymity, concurred that the user rules when considering new applications.

"They're the ones that are typically going to know if the application is a success or not. By not listening to them you're basically shooting the project in the backside," the IT manager said.

However, IT departments have been seduced by vendors at the expense of users in the past, the IT manager warned.

"I think IT departments have installed the latest system or looked into the latest buzz word without really considering if it's appropriate for the business they're working for," the IT manager said.

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