Summary: Business and IT leaders have talked about the need for IT/business alignment for well over a decade. They all want the benefits that successful alignment brings, like improved business efficiency, reduced costs, increased agility, etc… Who wouldn’t want that? Yet, despite understanding the importance of IT/business alignment…it’s still an issue in many companies. In this article, we explore a few ways to improve your IT/business alignment.
For over a decade now, the “IT/business alignment” concept has been a top priority for business leaders…and with good reason. Technology impacts your business more today than ever in the past. You absolutely need your IT department aligned with business objectives.
After all of these years, you’d think most businesses have achieved this alignment…right? Not so fast.
The fact is, IT/business alignment still isn’t happening. Despite the push towards alignment over the past decade, most business still struggle in this area. A recent study reports that, “just 11% of IT leaders see themselves as “truly part of the business,” despite the fact that IT is now a primary driver of revenue.”
An Inc.com article on the topic sums up the problem nicely, and shares some surprising statistics: “Shockingly, alignment is a competency that few companies master. Research shows that nine out of ten companies fail to execute their strategic vision and that 95 percent of employees, on average, are unaware of or do not understand their company’s strategy. To say that alignment is rare is an understatement. Indeed, it is a defining element of successful companies.”
So, let’s recap: In this technology-driven world, IT/business alignment is more important than ever. However, most businesses still struggle in this area. Why? What can you do to address this issue?
Today, let’s explore that topic. Here are 5 tips to improve IT/business alignment.
1. Define your goals
One major reason businesses don’t achieve alignment: They don’t agree on the target.
Oftentimes, the term “IT/business alignment” is not properly defined. Or, different people in your organization hold different definitions.
The first step towards alignment is agreeing on a common definition and goal. Both the business and IT leaders must aim for the same target. For instance, this means asking questions like:
In what ways are the business and IT department “not aligned?”
What will IT/business alignment look like in our organization?
The purpose here is defining your target. Once all parties can agree on a common outcome, the process gets a lot simpler. This may sound basic, but you’d be surprised at how often this step gets ignored.
2. Get the right people in charge
This is one of the biggest challenges for an IT department. More often than not, the IT leader falls into one of two categories:
- The IT manager doesn’t understand technology, but does understand leadership and business.
- The IT manager knows everything about the technical aspect of the job, and very little about leadership and communication.
Which option is best for leading an IT department? Something in the middle. Now, I understand that this is a hard person to find. But, as explained below, IT/business alignment requires a leader that understands both sides.
“I’ve seen many companies hire or promote a “techie” as the IT director,” says Ahsun Saleem, President of Simplegrid Technology Inc., “While this person has excellent technical skills and can play an integral role in the upkeep of a company’s technology infrastructure, often times this person has very little business acumen and therefore cannot understand and assist in recommending and utilizing technology to further the company’s business goal. This person is in what we call the “IT 1.0” phase – where IT is still looked at as a cost, and the basic maintenance and upkeep of systems are all that matters. It’s critical for forward thinking organizations to find IT directors that have a blend of technology and business skillsets. This person should understand the latest trends in technology, especially within the company’s industry, but then also be able to recognize how those trends can align with the firm’s business goals. This is what we are calling “IT 2.0” – the maturation of IT to become a strategic asset to the company by utilizing technology to drive profitability, thus making the IT department a potential profit center.”
3. Involve IT in business strategy plan
Some business leaders complain that their IT department isn’t aligned with the business…but don’t involve IT in planning. They tell IT all about their plans and goals, but don’t involve them in the process.
Can you really capitalize on technology if you don’t involve the IT leader in the planning phase? Probably not.
In today’s technology-driven world, this is imperative. If you want any chance at IT/business alignment, your IT leaders must be involved in the business strategy.
“IT/Business alignment has as more to do with relationships and strategy buy-in than simply communicating business goals to IT,” says Ervis Zeqo, Business Development Manager at eMazzanti Technologies. “IT leadership should be involved directly in formulating business strategy. Their idea contribution can be invaluable. If they helped to create the strategy, then everyone will be working in the same direction and alignment will improve dramatically.”
4. Streamline processes and tools
In the past, the IT department governed technology and data access. They controlled which software made its way into the business, and who had access to that software. They were in charge of delivering new solutions to the business.
Now, that’s changed. Over the past few years, we’ve seen the pendulum swing in the opposite direction. Self-service tools have exploded in the business world. More and more, business units purchase and use software on their own–behind the IT department’s back.
The problem is, this makes alignment nearly impossible. If employees (or entire departments) purchase and use third-party solutions, IT has no way of managing and securing that data. Additionally, it means that different departments are just doing their own thing. How can IT deliver business-wide solutions when this happens?
What’s the answer? To reduce Shadow IT, the IT departments must streamline the processes and tools they provide to the business. They must deliver controlled, self-service options that the entire business can use. This gives the best of both worlds. The IT department can manage users and data access, and the business users get the solutions they need.
“As technology evolves, the training and equipment required to keep up with that technology also evolves—leading to ever-increasing complexity,” says Vadim Vladimirskiy, Founder and CEO of Nerdio. “We recommend consolidating IT functions and simplifying technology processes. By making tools easier to use, IT can align with businesses wanting to improve customer experience (through an easier interface), and reduce wasted employee time (with an easier learning curve or simpler processes).”
5. Embrace job rotation
Communication is the biggest stumbling block in IT/business alignment. Too often, the IT department and the business units either don’t talk or don’t understand each other. How can you have alignment if neither side understands the other? You can’t.
How can you fix this issue? There’s an old saying: “Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes.” This applies perfectly to IT/business alignment. Before you complain about the other side, try to truly understand them.
How can you do that? Some companies turn to a practice called “job rotation.” They periodically rotate business users into IT roles and IT staff into business roles. This forces them to learn more about the other’s job.
This article entitled, “IT job rotation rare, but critical for business alignment,” goes into more detail about the pros and cons of this approach. It sums up the concept nicely with this quote: “Rotating IT employees temporarily into business operations is valuable because it refreshes their knowledge of how the business operates. Those employees then bring that perspective back into IT, encouraging better relationships between the IT organization and the business.”
Obviously, there are logistical concerns, which the article covers. But, it’s an interesting way to help both sides understand the other.
These are just 5 ways to improve IT/business alignment. Would you add anything to this list? If you would like to add anything to this list, I’d love to hear it. Feel free to share in the comments.