The Sweet Spot In The Middle
Unless you happen to work for a company whose name is McKinsey, BCG, or Bain, it is unlikely that you’ll find much opportunity in pure business consulting (i.e. strategy, process). On the end of the spectrum, unless you have the massive scale of an HCL, Tata, or Cognizant, it is also unlikely that you will find much opportunity in pure technology services. No, the rest of us must exist in the middle.
We must strike the right balance of business and technology acumen to be of great value to our clients and position ourselves appropriately along the spectrum of partner types for our clients.
A core tenet of the MST Way calls upon us to “Learn their business and solve their problems. Don’t just fill orders.” What this means is that as MST Solutions consultants – and that means everyone in the organization – the more we discover and internalize about our clients’ businesses and how they work, the more value we bring to the table. When we focus only on technology, we leave opportunity on the table – and more importantly, we decrease our value to our clients. We leave gaps that are filled either with client effort or by other vendors.
What gaps you say? Well, think about all the projects with which you have been involved. Did you work with business staff or IT? Who provided the business requirements – no, not the specifications or the user stories, but the actual business requirements? Were they the same people that provided the detailed, functional requirements (specification)? I’m betting no. As technology people, we often forget that more people in business have perspectives different than our own. Where we see a table or a relational data model, often these people just see unstructured information and process – or perhaps they visualize a spreadsheet. They know their business and can articulate the processes, but they may not be able to visualize the best way to support those processes with technology.
Likewise, technology resources do not always understand the business. They know their platform. They know good engineering. However, that is not enough to solve the customer’s problem, as they simply don’t speak the same language. Translation is needed to get to the point where software becomes “buildable”. What to do? Well, this is traditionally where the Business Analyst (whether employed by the customer or by MST Solutions) fills the gap, and most often, the gap is filled, and projects are delivered. However, there is significant variation from project to project (and thus resulting outcomes) in terms of how completely the gap is closed.
One way to ensure the gap is always 100% closed is through overlap. If the coverage from the business side overlaps the technology side considerably, then we know, by definition, that gap is closed. But where is the line? Should we educate the customer more on technology so that they can better articulate their own requirements? Perhaps that would be easier for some, but it goes against our Culture of Service to put the onus on the customer. No, it is incumbent upon us to move the other way. We need to engage deeper with our clients. We need to know their businesses and learn lessons that can make us credible with others.
That is how we build credible verticals (more than a just collection of clients in an industry – we must have knowledge and expertise).
Once such example has played out and continues to evolve with our partners: Banner Health. After an in-depth discovery process where we learned a key function of the business, MST was contracted by the Physician HR team to help them evolve their recruiting and pre-employment process with an integrated Salesforce workflow solution. While working under the supervision of Banner IT Product Managers, we were closely engaged with the Physician HR team. Our discovery process focused on mapping out their business workflow and chasing down processes that led into otherwise out-of-scope areas of the business, such that we could develop an expert understanding of their world. It has allowed us to engage on their terms, speaking their language. As a result, our partnership has been open-minded, welcoming and mutually trusting. Our collaboration has resulted in improved clarity, opportunities for process improvement and promises to yield amazing solutions.
Beyond the project success, our investment in developing business expertise has yielded other significant benefits. We have been invited to present at MGMA19 – a major Healthcare provider, non-technology conference – on the subject of Improving Physician Experience. By opening our minds to the learning opportunity and developing deep knowledge of our client’s business, we have developed a real expertise and gained a great opportunity to grow MST Solutions Healthcare presence. To top it off, our sponsoring executive from Banner Health, will join us on stage as a co-presenter at the conference, as we share our partnership’s achievements.
While this may seem like an unusual case – and indeed, circumstances have aligned very well – the effort involved was not exceptional for MST. It was the appropriate approach and rational strategy to deliver a large project for any of our customers, under any circumstance. By always trying to move toward (and beyond) the middle ground between our expertise and that of our clients, we can ensure good outcomes, amazing professional growth, and strong relationships built on true partnerships.