In Enterprise Architecture, we have a goal: be a strategic asset to the business.  That means that we need to come to the business with not only constraints (“you have to use technology X or process Y or leverage the existing system Z”) but also opportunities (“you can lower costs by doing A, understand your customers better by doing B, and compete better by doing C”).  That’s a different mindset.

Business folks are not ever going to come to IT and say “tell us what we should do.”  It’s just not going to happen.

So where do all the good ideas in business come from, anyway?  In a word, marketing.  The business leaders who percieve trends, develop strategies, and then start to propose changes are subject to the same marketing messages as anyone else.  They read magazines, chat with friends, attend conferences and listen to the radio, just like everyone else.

So, one way that we can get out in front is to come up with some ideas about how we can improve our organizations and then market those ideas.  Perhaps publish a newsletter where IT staff write up an article every month on an opportunity that they percieve to reduce costs, increase revenue, or better compete.  Perhaps conferences would help, with your company’s IT team presenting options for improvement in different “booths”, with the management staff invited to browse, listen to presentations, and take home ball-point pens and conference swag.

This has to occur seperately from project work, and well in advance of a project.  So if you are already working on project “Atlantis”, come up with ideas about the next steps after project “Atlantis” is done (hopefully before it sinks into the sea, killing every living soul and reducing the name to a mere legend).

Projects are compromises.  They represent the collective approach of “what to do today” but the ideas to market from IT are more long-reaching… “what should we be doing tomorrow.”

In a purely hierarchical organization, it may seem sensical to sell the ideas only to the “right” senior management person, who then directs their staff to “make it so.”  That sounds interesting on paper, but I’ve never seen an organization where a smart and respected low-level manager couldn’t walk into the room of his or her manager and present a great idea.  In fact, I’d suggest that this is how most really useful things happen… with the ideas of a good business person.

You job, if you choose to accept it, is to seed that discussion with good ideas. 

Of course, this requires that you understand at least the basics of what the business does.  You can’t be waiting for someone to come hold your hand and feed you requirements.  Get out there.  Understand the needs as best you can.  Extrapolate.  Be visionary.  Look for the hidden steps, the paper processes, the e-mail workflow. 

Generate ideas.

Then, market them.