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12 May 2009


By Andrew Clifford

I had an idea for a new acronym - BOCTOC - to describe how we should apply IT to business.

BOCTOC stands for business opportunity and change, technology opportunity and change. It describes the order in which we should approach the application of IT to business. I would appreciate your views on whether this a useful acronym.

Business opportunity considers whether there is value in the business doing something. The value may be simple commercial profitability, strategic positioning, investor relations, risk, or other aspects.

Business change considers how the business needs to be different to achieve the value. This describes changes in what the business produces, how it works, how it is organised, or whatever, to achieve the business opportunity. The emphasis is on what the changed business should be like, not how to achieve the change.

Technology opportunity considers how information technology could theoretically contribute to the changed business. This defines IT very narrowly, as a capability that automates the storage, processing and communication of information. It considers what information automation, if any, could support the changed business.

Technology opportunity is not about IT products or the IT department. It does not ask "What package can we use?", or "Can IT project managers be used as change agents?" It is more theoretical, to understand the potential for applying information automation to the changed business.

Technology change is a gap analysis that maps the technology opportunities to the existing IT in the organisation. This produces a list of requirement for new or changed information storage, processing and communication.

There is a strict progression in these ideas. You must understand the business opportunity before you consider what the changed business should be like. You must decide what the changed business should be like before you consider how technology could help. You must understand how technology could help before you can build a list of requirements for technology change.

You can use this approach to respond to business opportunities, by mapping out the IT opportunities and changes once business changes have been decided. The business opportunities are independent of the IT, and the IT organisation should not try to find business opportunities to justify technology change.

This approach also suggests where the IT organisation should be proactive. Some business opportunities are not considered because the costs of running the changed business look like they would outweigh the value. Sometimes using IT makes business changes viable, and there is an opportunity to proactively suggest where IT could be used.

Similarly, sometimes IT enables business opportunities that require changes to business processes, but these are not identified because they do not fall into the areas of responsibility of managers within the current organisational hierarchy. In these cases, the IT organisation might be in a position to identify possible opportunities.

Where IT is proactive, it still has to follow BOCTOC. If IT identifies a business opportunity, its first job is to sell that opportunity into the business at an appropriate level. IT should never try to work bottom up, and try to sell IT projects before the business opportunity has been clarified and business changes characterised.

Does BOCTOC make sense?

Next: Crossing boundaries


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