Two Sides of the Same House: Improving Business & IT Alignment
All companies today depend on information technology to run their businesses. At the same time, IT strategies have become crucial for business leaders to create a competitive market advantage. Companies that still view IT as a requisite cost center which simply keeps the lights on will soon get left in the dust.
The lines have permanently blurred – business leaders must recognize that IT has become a strategic business enabler in its own right. Despite this obvious connection, many managers still overlook the critical importance of aligning IT strategy with business strategy
The first step toward bringing these two separate sides of the house together involves improving communications so both sides can understand each other. CIOs and technology managers should recognize that geeky technical jargon can be off-putting or even confusing to line-of-business employees who lack IT training. Long descriptions about the challenges of deploying a hybrid cloud, or visualizing data analytics, may be more effective when framed as a business challenge to improve customer data security or increase profitability.
For this reason, it is helpful to adopt a vocabulary that describes IT functions in the context of business outcomes. For example, justify the cost for an infrastructure upgrade as a strategy that enables future business growth, such as for the rollout of mobile platforms that will expand employee connectivity.
Likewise, business leaders should become shrewder about how IT strategies can greatly increase manufacturing efficiencies, smooth out kinks in supply chains, speed up time to market, and improve customer satisfaction. In other words, managers need to look at business strategies through the lenses of IT tools and processes.
Both IT managers and business leaders can benefit from the use of crowdsourcing software platforms
that solicit feedback from the employees who are doing the actual work on specific initiatives. Crowdsourcing sessions query team members to quickly identify any project roadblocks, and then choose the best solutions through votes by team members. In this way, leaders can nurture more staff buy-in because they are implementing decisions made by the team itself, rather than by issuing top-down commands.
Another good approach for unifying the whole house is to name tech-savvy management leaders who are assigned to regularly interface with the IT team. Such a cross-team liaison can help prioritize mutual projects and set more realistic expectations for both sides.
Lastly, at the highest level, boards of directors and C-level management should adopt governance policies with transparent structures to coordinate decision-making for IT budgets and priorities. This can help demystify IT decisions for business leaders, while keeping IT managers aligned with the larger business imperatives.