Business/IT Alignment… a topic almost as old as IT itself, yet we’re still talking about it… and struggling with it. Why? Well there are numerous reasons why IT has struggled with this issue for decades, and with the advent of Consumerization and the proliferation of Cloud Services, the priority of this challenge has increased significantly as the business becomes more empowered. When a business user can provision a server in minutes with a corporate credit card, that’s a powerful thing, and it dramatically raises expectations for IT’s responsiveness. But even if IT can respond faster and lower turnaround times, just responding isn’t enough. IT must anticipate and propose new ways of leveraging technology to advance the business, and to do that IT must:
1) know the business inside and out, and
2) communicate/collaborate effectively with the business.
#1 typically isn’t the heart of the challenge in most businesses as tenured IT resources usually know their company’s business quite well. The challenge usually comes with #2, where techno-speak and organizational silos become barriers that undermine timely communication and effective collaboration.
So as an IT leader facing this dilemma, what should you do? While there’s no magic bullet or panacea that solves this issue in all organizations, there are some things you can do to begin to address this challenge within your company.
Organizational Structure: Take a look at the structure of your IT organization, paying particular attention to the departments or roles that interface with the business. How well do you think those interfaces are working? Would your business peers agree with you? How often does your team proactively engage the business, proposing ideas/options to solve business challenges? If this happens rarely, what’s getting in the way? Some of what you’ll find as you probe this area may take some time to address, but you may also find some low-hanging fruit that can yield timely and material improvements.
Staff Training: In most IT organizations, training is usually skewed towards learning new technologies, keeping up with industry regulations, and adopting new methodologies/frameworks. Training on listening, communication, collaboration, negotiation, etc. are often de-prioritized, undervalued, or overlooked for many reasons such as unclear benefits and staff resistance. But this is an area where the right training, customized to your organization’s unique culture can pay great dividends. How you approach, talk to, and negotiate with people makes a big difference and can be the rocket fuel that dramatically boosts business/IT alignment and collaboration in your organization.
Networking: We often hear the importance of networking outside of your organization, but networking inside your organization can be just as important. Fostering an environment where your team has opportunities and is encouraged to interact with their business peers can help forge new relationships, humanize IT to the business and vice versa, and lead to serendipitous information-sharing that can spark ideas and connect dots that can only benefit your organization. This will be time well spent when things are going well, and even moreso when the inevitable challenges arise.
Show Your Wares: Many times IT has cool stuff that the business may not know about or may not know enough about. In today’s climate of squeezing every ounce of productivity out of every investment dollar, particularly IT investment dollars, it is a great challenge to find the time to market new IT capabilities and showcase tools and techniques that are keeping the business moving and moving the business forward. There are many ways to achieve this from lunch-and-learns and coffee-breaks to demos and focused presentations. With IT’s overflowing plate, it can be hard to fit these activities in, but the future rewards will be well worth the time spent. Just as it is important for IT to know the business inside and out, it is also important for the business to know and understand the IT capabilities at its disposal. Such knowledge may prompt the business to pick up the phone and call IT first, vs. initially looking outside for technology solutions.
That’s my two cents, but what other areas would you explore to improve business/IT alignment in your company?