Are IT Terms Fundamental to Every Business? Not!
In previous columns, I've argued strongly that business rules are not the same as system or IT rules. Does that mean that IT terminology can never appear in business rules? Well, no. If your business is IT, then obviously your business vocabulary will reflect that. But we often lose sight of the fact that even in our pervasively automated world, IT per se is not the product/service of most organizations.
There are, however, some fuzzy edges. One of these is IT security, a significant concern for every organization. Doesn't that mean at least some IT terminology will find its way into business rules? To examine this question further, let's briefly consider four different organizations.
Internet Security Company. Both the product/service and the business processes of this organization directly involve IT security. The vocabulary of IT will therefore be reflected in everything from its business strategy, vocabulary and rules, on down. IT terminology is fundamental to the business and yes, most certainly will appear in its business rules.
Agency for National Security. Is this organization's business mission IT security or national security?! The latter, of course, but it's obvious being able to run IT platforms is as much a part of the business mission as, say, an airline's ability to fly planes. This organization's business vocabulary would be peppered with IT terms and, yes, the business rules for its product/service as well.
National Taxation Authority. This organization's mission – handling the nation's personal and corporate taxation – would be impossible today without IT platforms. (Good news or bad news I wonder?!) Its rules regarding IT platforms are stringent. However, consider the Authority's product/service terminology. I submit that you can pick up the 1040 tax instructions (or equivalent) and get a very good idea of its vocabulary. No IT terminology there! So no IT terminology in the business rules for its product/service either. On the other hand, delineation of the Authority's business strategy and processes reveals many risks concerning unauthorized access to its IT platforms. These risks are just as real to the Authority as, say, unauthorized access to its physical buildings. So on the business strategy/process side of things, yes, IT-platform terms (as well as physical-building terms) will appear in its business vocabulary and business rules.
For this third organization, note the clear distinction between business strategy and processes, where IT terminology would appear, and product/service, where it should not appear. Many organizations are in trouble precisely at this point. They've allowed the IT terms involved in developing strategy and running processes to bleed over into product/service vocabulary. This problem is pervasive in the internal business operations of most companies – something which in no small measure, I'm certain, can be put down as a legacy of traditional IT methodologies.
Now the fourth company ...
Airline. The product/service of an airline involves its capacity to move passengers by flying aircraft. Air transportation terminology will therefore figure prominently in both its product/service vocabulary and the related business rules. IT terminology will not, however – that's simply not its business. What about the company's business strategy and processes? Even cursory examination reveals a variety of risks – for example, competition, passenger safety, travel patterns and trends, aircraft acquisition and depreciation, customer loyalty, etc. To address these risks, you'll find tactics and strategies about having the right IT systems in place – for example, for frequent flyer programs, automated check-in, customer service, etc. However, if you think of the business strategy as a hierarchy or lattice of components, these tactics and strategies are likely to appear toward the lower or outer nodes rather than the top or core. Yes, there will be some IT terminology in their business management/process vocabulary, and therefore in the related business rules, but in balanced proportion. That simply reflects the main focus of their business – again, flying passengers on planes, not IT.The large majority of the organizations in the world are not Internet Security Companies, Agencies for National Security, or National Taxation Authorities. Rather, they are more like the Airline. Think of IT platforms as infrastructure or commodities, much like telephones, company cars, company credit cards, high-speed communications, etc. You are likely to have some business rules about each of those commodities, in proportion to their relative importance under the business strategy and processes. Granted, IT platforms aren't quite commodities yet, but maybe – almost certainly – in the not-too-distant future.
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