I was reading an interesting article on “America's 400 Best Big Companies” in a recent issue of Forbes magazine featuring “The Best Of The Best” and began musing: is the knowledge of “business domain” and experience overrated in the media and popular IT press.
To set the context for an argument: Most technology consultants, especially management consultants with an IT focus tend to emphasize the need for ‘Business IT Alignment,’ and rightly so. I will not argue against the need for businesses driving IT; business strategy, and requirements do drive much of IT needs. The business needs (aka requirements) for IT systems, in turn are driven by a fundamental business driver: make more money; a.k.a maximize shareholder wealth. Hundreds of books, articles and papers have been published on the topic with a variety of flavors.
No doubt that knowledge of the business domain is as significant as knowledge of technology, and a key success factor for project managers. While Program Managers and leaders will generally depend on business analysts and domain experts for guidance, any knowledge of the functional area will go a long way.
However, my musing was about how overrated the knowledge of business context (and business domain knowledge) is, especially in an offshored context. Because of the complexity of businesses systems, it is hard to expect an individual to gain expertise in the different functional areas in a reasonable amount of time.
And there is the cultural context of business. Let me explain my thought with two examples: Corrections Corp. Of America, featured in the Forbes article that briefly describes the ‘business model’
Crime pays. At least for John Ferguson, chief of $1.3 billion (sales) Corrections Corporation of America (nyse: CXW), the nation's largest privatized prison operator. If there's one thing Ferguson can rely on, it's that criminals are never in short supply and there aren't enough bars to put them behind. Ferguson's 23-year-old firm, in Nashville, Tenn., is the oldest company of its kind. And it has cells to spare. "We have seen this percolating demand for many years that we didn't sense other people saw," he says. "This company has prepared itself." Earnings per share are up 130% over the last 12 months.
Service Corporation International: North America’s largest provider of funeral and cemetery services. [Incidentally, Infosys did some key legacy-modernization work for SCI]. The company’s website says
“Through our network of more than 2,000 funeral homes and cemeteries, we serve hundreds of thousands of families each year at their time of need or on a preneed basis. As North Americas leading provider of death care services, SCI is poised to fulfill the needs of a population that now includes more persons over age 65 than at any time in history.”
Back to where I began musing. Most of us in the ‘white collared’ IT and consulting world would not know the intricacies of a ‘corrections system’ or their customers. Now, who exactly are the customers here: is it the guests of the state [prisioners], the state/Federal Government or both, I wonder? Same is the argument for the intricacies of a funeral / death care services business.
Just a thought: how many Management Consultants / Business Consultants from pure-play consulting firms would have experiential knowledge of the intricacies of the “Business” in the examples above. By the same argument, one could be intrigued about how one would explain the ‘Business’ of the illustrated organizations to an offshore team.
Morbid as the client’s business sounds, an Infosys team leveraged the GDM to successfully implement the program for SCI. One could argue that in the case in example quoted, was more of a ‘technical’ project, migrating applications to a .Net based solution.
Makes one wonder: are “business knowledge” “domain expertise” etc a bit more overrated than needed?