Tear Down that Wall: Erasing the Line Between IT and Business
In this age of digital transformation, it seems obvious that every department within the same business hierarchy at a company should be in complete lockstep when it comes to goals and objectives. Yet, this is not always the case when it comes to an IT department and its relationship to other divisions that are directly responsible for making the products or offering the services that generate a company’s income. With all of the software products on the market and many advertised as simplified, turnkey applications, it’s tempting for each department to go its own way. In this ever-changing world where the size and scope of what information technology means and how it impacts the bottom line continue to evolve, it is important to break down the silo walls separating IT from a company’s objectives.
It seems logical that a company’s business objectives would be in alignment with how its IT department functions since that group can help meet critical organizational goals. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with many large businesses. This can lead to the “shadow IT” phenomenon, in which IT systems, software applications, and services are employed without the approval of the internal IT department. Shadow IT is more prevalent with the rise in cloud-based services and can be demoralizing for the internal staff that feel they should be included in the planning and handling of those tasks. An additional challenge is how shadow IT can lead to issues with integrating external programs and applications with internal software. Those enterprise systems (software applications designed for cross-organizational capabilities) may not mesh with each department or group without input from the internal IT staff. Because of this, it is important for the CEO, CIO, and other leaders to be on the same page.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
It’s no surprise that the business side of an organization wants to make money. The issue is that IT is often not part of the mix and isn’t factored into the overall goals of a company. To ensure critical goals are achieved, it is crucial for organizational leaders to ensure that both the business and IT sides of the coin are dependent on and aligned with each other. The lack of business and IT synergy is a common problem in a variety of industries and shadow IT results in expenses for both the internal IT staff and an outside vendor. If an outside contractor is required, it is imperative that the IT department is a key part of that decision-making process. This will increase the likelihood that there is buy-in from both sides with an agreement that, at least in the short term, an external contractor is required. With the IT world evolving and new skill sets required for artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), increased automation, and other technological advancements, there is hope that the need for shadow IT will diminish.
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An Action Plan For Aligning Business and IT
Creating a plan to align business and IT goal consists of three critical phases:
- Create a shared vision between IT and company stakeholders. It’s important for CIOs and other IT leaders to create buy-in throughout the organization. At the same time, encourage functional leaders to manage their own technology portfolio, supporting shared accountability.
- Use this vision as the blueprint to reassess current IT strategies. It’s important that IT goals are aligned with organizational objectives. Embedding technology goals within other business units helps promote collaboration.
- Link IT metrics to the business goals of the shared vision. Consider key performance indicators (KPIs) within the context of overall organizational goals. At the same time, IT and other business departments should have their own unique metrics to assess efficiency and ROI.
A thorough alignment action plan includes skills development for the in-house IT group, based on the business objectives established by upper management. When management supports its IT staff by providing training and development of newer, advanced IT skills along with hiring additional employees with this background, if necessary, the company avoids the need for excessive use of outside vendors. Creating that mindset change of developing existing employees instead of contracting with vendors starts at the top of a company’s hierarchy. This means investing in an organization’s staff needs to become a part of a company’s culture and maintaining this mindset even when upper management changes. If new management brings in outside contractors, any alignment between the business group(s) and IT could disappear. Because of this, the alignment concept is as much of a people issue as it is a technology concern.
A good first step is for management to step out of the business silo to form a bond with the IT department. This sends the signal that all departments are in this together and headed towards the same North Star. In fact, many business improvements start with better interdepartmental lines of communication. An example of alignment is when vice presidents and IT directors work together to solve a problem or make a technological upgrade before any thought of using an outside vendor is considered. That helps unite all players behind a common goal. Instead of focusing on just one “bug” or a small problem, the IT department is sharing its big-picture view with its enterprise side partners (the people focused on enhancing a company’s bottom line). An ideal scenario is when management supports IT employees who are motivated by becoming more aligned with a company’s goals. Company alignment helps to make organizations more profitable and competitive. Leading organizations in the automotive, aerospace, computer manufacturing, sports apparel, and utility sectors have embraced this mindset change.
Aligning Business Goals across All Departments
There is no shortage of commentary about the historical separation between IT and other departments within a business structure. Yet, as the scope of IT expands beyond just handling payroll, routine tasks, cybersecurity issues, or keeping the books, it is essential that the silos come down. With the rise of AI and ML, coupled with the need to program algorithms after big data analysis, and the advent of managing cloud-based computing services and cybersecurity issues, the internal IT department is now more integral to what the rest of an organization is doing. Bringing down that wall will benefit both company operations and the bottom line.
About the Author
Samar Satpalkar embodies a unique talent for applying an engineering mindset to build valuable relationships with a global perspective shaped by career experiences in the United States, Europe, and India. He is an experienced program manager and chief architect for crucial enterprise software. He also has deep expertise in utilities, energy, oil and gas, pharma, and media and entertainment industries. For more information, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on LinkedIn.
Disclaimer: The author is completely responsible for the content of this article. The opinions expressed are their own and do not represent IEEE’s position nor that of the Computer Society nor its Leadership.