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Men in the middle see both sides of the IT-business split

The in-between people see it all from their position between IT and business users. Wayne Eckerson calls them the “purple people” because they’re half IT red and half business blue, and others might call them just con artists. By either name, they see more than the purebreds.

Today at the sixth Tableau Customer Conference, just upwind from Washington D.C, I ran into two men in such roles.

They appear in one set of clothes when facing the information technology people. Then in an instant they turn around to appear in other clothes to business people. They win the confidence of both.

Stephen Wright was hired most recently by IT. That’s who usually hires him. He’s a database administrator, so he’s most comfortable in those clothes. They want only for him to take care of the database while the business people — those dangerous data moochers — suck the database of its vital juices.

His trick, though, is more subtle than running a database. He says all he really does is give the business users — Tableau users, in his current job — what they want: access to data.

Why, you ask, can’t an existing DBA do this? Are none of them smart enough? Are they too frightened? Are there no executives courageous enough to simply slam a fist down and tell them to do it? None of those.

The typical IT worker, he explains, is that they simply never will do this. He cites a 40-year-old book that explained the nerdy mind: Gerald Weinberg in The Psychology of Computer Programming explains how the nerd will never do things the easy way when there’s a hard way to do it. “They’re always tuning,” Wright says “and they’ll wreck your company doing it.”

Ted Corbett, a consultant I met years ago at an earlier Tableau conference — noted in a keynote then for putting Tableau in Seattle Children’s Hospital — does the same but has a slightly different view.

He came from the business side. Now at a job in Sacramento, he says the business people he works with prefer numbers. “They don’t seem to trust charts,” he says. Charts are good for exploring, but business people are just as risk-averse as most IT people.Is the trend improving? He thinks about it: Yeah, a little.

I’ve never heard before that business people prefer rows and columns, and it’s sure not what I’d expect from a Tableau partisan. But the purple people are their own people.

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