Relationships between business practitioners and technologists have moved through a sometimes tumultuous evolution. The earliest collaborations were centered on-highly specialized business problems, where the technologists hailed from mathematical and engineering disciplines. Communications were focused on very specific tasks with easily defined outcomes resulting in dedicated, restricted-use applications. As applications grew in scope and complexity, monolithic ERP solutions emerged, and technology became a career. Communications with business practitioners often strained under a load of complex jargon and idealistic, rigid processes.
By the end of the last decade, technology had become opaque, burdensome and costly. Desperate for something simpler business practitioners, fired by the consumerization of IT and the birth of the app, turned to shadow IT. Far from an ideal world, they struggled with unsupported, poorly secured and isolated toolsets; while technologists wrestled with a loss of control. Out of this turmoil, two critical future factors emerged, business practitioners skilled up in understanding the impact of technology on business and technologists discovered technology as a business and the power of technology underpinning business strategy.
Galvanized by greater cohesion, technologists and business practitioners stand ready for the next decade of collaboration. Ways of working and supporting toolsets have evolved to empower this next evolution.
Collaborative Ways of Working
There have been two major shifts in the way business practitioners and technologists are tackling business problems and are driving collaboration. Firstly, the Agile method; born out of software development, Agile is not only being applied more broadly but critically provides both of these protagonists a singular point of focus; the customer. Secondly, a shift away from viewing software development and implementation as projects towards the more outcomes orientated notion of products, has made business practitioners more engaged and technologists more commercially astute.
At the core of Agile lies collaboration. At each stage of development, business practitioners together with technologists seek to consult and involve the customer in what is being delivered. By doing so, all stakeholders are compelled to uncover unique and compelling features that will delight the user and drive business outcomes.
The continuously evolving product may grow to become complex over time, but the fact that it started from simple roots, was built in collaboration, keeps everyone engaged. In essence, technology is being reinvented; this time not inside the development laboratories of large software houses or in some suburban garage, but side-by-side with the customers, business practitioners and the technologists.
As the approach to software development and implementations shift from projects to products, the role business practitioners’ play has evolved too. Product owners, a business role, are now the custodians of the technology. Importantly, however, they must collaborate with technologists to be successful; here, supporting toolsets are helping to bridge the gap.
Collaboration Tools with a Purpose
Tools focused on collaboration have been around for decades. Early solutions, including groupware like Lotus Notes, were narrowly targeted at either business practitioners or technologists. Intended to support teams divided by geography or time zones, open communication, and information sharing was the primary goal. Although flexible, these tools were generic in execution, leaving customers to establish their collaborative methodology to utilize the tools successfully. This resulted in unstructured implementations with long-term collaboration outcomes remaining questionable.
With partnerships between customers, business practitioners and technologists increasing, collaboration toolsets have continued to evolve. Most toolsets have at least one methodology embedded, supporting a more structured approach to collaboration. Products such as Atlassian Jira and Microsoft Azure DevOps, born out of pure software development, are now being shared directly with the range of users.
This new wave of collaboration is also influencing monolithic ERP. With a DevOps approach being applied to the configuration and customization of these core enterprise applications, business practitioners and technologists alike are empowered to deliver flexible and scalable advances. These inbuilt collaborative tools, underpinned by widely used methodologies, are supporting this customer-centric approach.
Growth of Collaboration Toolsets
There are, however, opportunities for these collaboration tools. Although many of the tools have addressed strong cooperation in the development of technology products, collaboration across business operations is less integrated. IT operations may be supported, but other operational areas of businesses are largely left isolated. To engage with other operational areas, collaboration tools will need to engage at a more functional level with ERP, CRM, and other business support applications.
Also, unified communications have not effectively become unified collaboration. Integrations seldom go beyond surfacing one application within the other. Incorporation of natural language processing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning may provide a richer source of collaboration across operations in the future.
The inclusion of graph database technology may unearth unforeseen insights into the structured and unstructured data collected within these tools. This powerful technology helps discover context and shape relationships between seemingly unrelated entities. By uncovering connections between sources and streams of collaboration, businesses could discover unexpected opportunities to transform customer outcomes.
Over the last twenty years, the relationship between technologists and business practitioners has undergone a significant transformation. New ways of working supported by innovative tools have begun a collaboration that redefines the role IT plays in business. As toolsets evolve and support the mutual focus on customer-centric business, it will add fuel to the pace of technological change.