The business and IT divide has persisted since the dawn of business computing and, based on experience, I doubt it will ever go away. That doesn’t mean it cannot be managed better. One of the key objectives that Informatica had in its current release (Informatica 9) and covered by my colleague (See: “Informatica Brings Business and IT Together for Your Data in Version 9“) was to reduce business users’ dependence on IT to translate their needs into IT systems. The objective is to make it simple for business users to take care of 80%-90% of data definition and data quality issues involved in analytical tasks, while facilitating the interaction of business and IT to resolve issues on the fly. Instead of having, say, six people in IT who don't understand the meaning and context of the underlying data structure spending full time trying to collect requirements from end users and translate this into code, you now have the dozens of business analysts and/or trained individuals in functional roles each take care of their own requirements and have one or two people in IT finish the rest of the job. Rather than having a process that must be structured as discrete steps requiring considerable preparation and thought (like a chess match), make the process more interactive (like volleyball).
The latest release is Informatica’s attempt to achieve “lossless translation of business requirements into IT systems” (their words). There are three aspects to this.
One of the important requirements is giving business analysts and line-of-business users a self-service tool that is powerful but also conforms to their way of looking at the world. One aspect of this is an interactive capability – working with the data iteratively to ensure that data specifications, data mappings and data cleansing are accurate and conform to their business need. A second is enhancing IT productivity by giving business users and the department a common tool in which they can share their work. Today, business users use personal productivity tools such as spreadsheets and word documents to define requirements while IT uses development tools. By sharing a common metadata repository which contains all data and can manage it across the entire lifecycle of development, IT can pick up the loose ends that business users need help with. Third, the process requires an environment where it is easy for those on the business side to work interactively with IT people to resolve issues.
I don’t believe that Informatica has solved the Business and IT divide issue, but release 9 is an important step to increasing the productivity and effectiveness of business analysts and IT departments. That said, I think the “results may vary” caveat applies in the case of Informatica 9. All of the usual basic, blocking and tackling regarding skills, organizational culture and other issues will determine how much effort will be required up front for a company to be able to use the software successfully. There also will be the usual data maintenance issues. For instance, one of the features of Informatica 9 is the ability to define and save data cleansing rules or definitions on the fly. Analysts can, for example, choose a predefined (and vetted) ‘Fix Postal Code,’ ‘Validate SKU Number,’ or ‘Choose Best Customer’ routine. While this may work for simple, standard actions that people re-use frequently, based on experience I expect they won’t be looking too hard to find other, more complicated routines that suit their needs. The result will be a mare’s nest that will require constant maintenance and/or training to avoid or fix this issue.
Let me know your thoughts or come and collaborate with me on Facebook, LinkedInand Twitter.
Robert D. Kugel – SVP Research