Like the picture? Did it need explaining?
As individuals we dont see our IT experiences in this Back Office and Front Office seesaw as our IT needs are satisfied by our personal mobile device and favourite web sites – banks, social networking, sports, shopping etc. We all predominantly live in a Front Office world where the technology responds almost immediately to our changing requirements. We dont care what happens in the Back Office of the organizations who supply our services.
Is there tension between us and the suppliers of our technology? Rarely because if we are unhappy we simply vote with our feet ( or fingers and mouse clicks to be more precise ). In our world of Front Office it is an unforgiving place. Second chances are not often taken. Choice is king and the customer is always right. Unbeknown to us the Back Office of these organizations must be adjusting and updating its systems to meet our demands. Such organizations have a very lean Back Office with optimized processes and services that adjust to the demands we place upon it. Consider for a moment your bank. Every minute of the day you could stand in front of an ATM machine and ask for a mini statement. Your bank would be obliged to make the calculation and print out the mini statement. They couldnt refuse your request nor charge you. The Back Office would simply cope with the transaction and provide you a service. Failure to do so would run a significant risk that you would consider moving to a competitor’s bank. Extreme of course but banks have to accomodate this synposis and ensure that the Front Office and Back Office are in total harmony. Can you imagine a message popping up that says “Sorry the system is unable to process your request because you have asked too many times”.
However this harmony is not often experienced in Corporate IT. Far from it.
Every organization has an element of tension between Back and Front Offices where what the customer ( sales, marketing, production, business development ) wants and what the Back Office IT team is able to deliver economically is often poles apart. Too often this tension is treated as the norm despite all the hard working of the people involved.
My picture depicts the disconnect between the Back Office and Front Office and suggests there is a timing ( speed ) issue that too often creates a Shadow Office situation where people work round the delays and frustrations experienced by Back Office IT operations being unable to step up to the plate. Of course if I worked in the Back Office I would have reams of reasons why there is this timing issue.
The Front Office people charged with coming up with the new products and innovative ideas are not weighed down by all the processes and workflows necessary to keep the Back Office running. Front Office people are ‘free’ to build business activities and services that appear to change by the minute (agile). These people will appeal to the competitive factors making them constantly seek new angles to sell more, build more and service more. Unfortunately the Back Office doesnt have this ‘luxury’ and is optimized for what they know they can do now. Speed in the Front Office is set by a customer somewhere and too often Front Office people conveniently forget the controls the Back Office must adhere to where speed is set by volumes and resources assigned to well tried and tested workflows. So what happens? The Back Office has to respond by breaking its defined process and governance rules by creating exceptions. Ad hoc workflows and processes are introduced that may satisfy an immediate Front Office need but which creates further complexity and resource allocation that in the longer run causes pain and further tension. You just cant win !
These Front Office people live for today. Many are gone tomorrow. The world of dynamic selling and ideas creation is awash with newcomers as incumbents move onto new roles in short shrift. In the Back Office this is not the same where IT Operations people are long timers with extensive career investment in ensuring IT service is well balanced in terms of performance, security and cost. The pressures on the Front Office to generate top line influence is acutely different to the Back Office who is there to protect the bottom line. More tension ensues.
As the tension brews so does the risk of the Shadow Office coming into being. Front Office people as individuals and teams will look to work round the delays and barriers put up by the Back Office. This manifests itself in many guises but too often this means unofficial use of personal devices, unofficial public storage clouds and unofficial public applications to communuicate with customers and suppliers. How much the Shadow Office penetrates an organization will of course vary depending on the ‘tension’ between Front and Back Office.
Look at this picture. I love it. Back Office and Front Office personified.
Disharmony between the Back and Front Office can be less catastrophic as the bridge picture , but too often the pain is acute and hurtful. But dont worry – cloud computing is seen as the ‘fixer’ of this tension situation.
By taking the ownership of the Back Office workflows and processes and moving them to one of the many cloud computing models is seen as the best way to restore the harmony that organizations experienced before. With the promise of automation, self service and always on IT service, cloud computing is seen as the only way to give the Back Office the kick up the backside. Cloud computing is seen as the only way to meet the way the Front Office places demand on the compute power. Flexing up and down with compute power can only be provided by the Cloud and people in the Front Office want cloud.
So what to do? Making strides to ensure the bridge meets at both ends doesnt necessarily mean a swift visit to the clouds is needed. An understanding of how the IT service consumes Back Office processes and workflows to deliver Front Office services and products is a starting place. Some will call it the Service Catalog or Technology Portfolio. Others will look to seperate teams ( domains ) to communicate proactively to ensure Back Office supply can meet Front Office demand. Others will build governance into the management of the Front and Back Office where key people span the workloads and prioritization of resources to ensure the tension is removed. However the two sides meet is slightly secondary; just as long as they do. When they do the risks of the Shadow Office being an unmanageable burden are significantly reduced because the Back Office teams feel they are part of the decision making process and able to negotiate with the Front Office to deliver the services needed to support and drive the business.
To conclude I always remind myself about what I as an individual sees. No Back Office just Front Office. No Shadow Office just Front Office. If you and I started a company right now we wouldnt have a Back Office just a Front Office. No Shadow Office.