Alignment is about everyone rowing the boat in the same direction. It’s about an entire organization being focused on the same objectives.
The decades old challenge of aligning IT with the business continues today. But it’s not a difficult gap to bridge. Let’s explore some common sense approaches to aligning technology with the business.
Marketing, Legal, Finance, and IT all have their unique languages and terminology. Yet, IT is the group that is most distanced from the rest of the business. Why is that? And how do we fix it?
There is no single reason. Rather, several factors have evolved and conspired to isolate IT.
Let’s start with the communication barrier. For some reason that I cannot fathom, many IT leaders still speak bits and bytes. That goes over as well in the board room as it would on a first date with a super model. (Unless said super model is also a geek).
The communication challenge may have started the divide but it then paved the way for greater obstacles.
As business leaders spent less time in uncomfortable dialogue with the IT folks, IT became less engaged in and, thus, less aware of, the business strategy and day to day operational issues. That led IT to measure itself in terms that made sense to IT but may not have meant much to the business folks.
And that made communication even worse. And the death spiral continued.
So how do we reverse the trend and truly get IT aligned with the business?
I’ve used four simple steps that have worked extremely well.
First, learn a new language. No technical terms, acronyms, or any other words that will cause business folks to run away. And be sure to speak in summary. If someone asks for the time, tell them what time it is. If they really want to know how to build a watch, they’ll ask. Give business leaders the simple bottom line and trust that they’ll ask if they need more detail.
Second, find out what the key, measurable business objectives are and build your strategy around them. IT only really does three things — support the users, maintain systems and infrastructure, and participate in business transformation. You need to know what’s important to the business to do each of those three. Learn how to balance your dialogue with the business around those three elements.
Third, measure IT in a way that’s consistent with those business objectives that you discovered in step two. Nobody cares or understands 99.99% up time — especially if 10 seconds of down time occurs during a huge online sale or during the CEO’s press conference. Instead, measure the business value of IT. Demonstrate that service levels are improving while costs are decreasing. Show how you’re developing solutions with the business faster and cheaper each quarter. We can write volumes on this topic so stay tuned for more articles.
Fourth, communicate, communicate, communicate. You’re not a politician. You’re a business leader. So communicate the good news and the bad news to the business. Let them know what you’re doing well. Let them know where you’re focusing improvement. They’ll really appreciate it. And communicate with your IT team. Share key business objectives with them. Engage them in the strategic planning process. Measure their individual performance on the same metrics that you derived in step three. Get your team members aligned with your mission, vision and objectives so you can have an IT organization that’s aligned with the business.
Start doing these four things and, as the months go by, you’ll find yourself engaged in a few more business conversations. And as the quarters go by, you’ll have business leaders approaching you with ideas. And, eventually, you’ll create the opportunity to be an active player in the leadership group and you’ll see IT engaged in more and more of the business strategic initiatives.
Finally, live by the spirit of continuous improvement. You won’t be perfect the first year. You’ll be better the second year. And, soon, you’ll have an IT organization that thrives on business alignment, meaningful metrics and great communication. And that’s when IT truly becomes a strategic asset that’s key to ongoing business success.
And, who knows, maybe that super model will start talking with you.