February 17, 2009, 7:56 AM — As business needs help set IT’s priorities, how IT departments align their solutions with business objectives hinge on a number of success factors.
The most pressing issue among CIOs, according to a 2008 survey by Society for Information Management (SIM) is the alignment—or misalignment—of IT with business. As IT departments need to consolidate their resources, there is a growing concern among CIOs that doing so may not be so easy. One cause of this issue is that tech workforces are seen as merely solutions provider instead of as strategic resources to achieve business success. Meeting business expectations effectively should be the goal of IT, but more importantly, of business.
There are several approaches that can be taken to align IT with business. Some approaches focus on the roles of individual IT contributors, while others focus on the needs of the business side and their position in the market. It is up to CIOs to identify key business needs and turn these needs into objectives that their IT organizations must achieve. CIOs also have the responsibility to build organizations that can deliver the right support to various project portfolios.
IT departments are there not just to provide computing solutions. Businesses will get more value from IT by considering their operational and strategic business needs. As business requirements help set IT’s priorities in terms of identifying resources, form insourcing and outsourcing strategies, and set up infrastructures, how IT departments implement their chosen approaches hinge on the following success factors:
- Open communication lines. IT departments and their business counterparts should set up a communication system that actively involves all stakeholders. This allows IT to get a feedback from the business side to formulate the best solutions possible; on the other hand, an open communication line with their technical counterparts familiarize business decision-makers to identify and take advantage of the available technical knowledgebase for better organizational and market performance.
- Business requirements analysis. IT’s exposure to business allows them to identify business needs that should be the key drivers behind most aspects of their operations. CIOs are best positioned to frame projects, infrastructures, and systems according to the needs of their primary clients. The success of IT as a business strategy is judged on how it helped in meeting business objectives.
- Expectation management. Both sides should be realistic about their expectations of each other. This can be achieved through the two mentioned success factors: communication and requirements. Business managers should know the limitations of IT, and that solutions do not come in cheap, such that in-house resources for application development and maintenance may require engaging third-parties to fulfill business needs. On the other hand, IT should be aware of the technical—and sometimes, financial—limitations of business operations. For example, introducing new systems to the IT enterprise landscape means training batches of end-users which then result in additional work to include end-user documentation and training designs.
- Organizational protocols and sponsorship. Internal protocols do affect the success of IT-business alignment. Sadly, protocols do not necessarily mean processes; protocols in most traditional institutions mean “just how things are done.” To navigate through layers of bureaucracy where it exists is to identify key personnel and project sponsors who understand and can articulate the justifications for IT projects as business strategies. Where all decision-makers must stamp their signatures in all IT ventures, CIOs should find the right people to champion their causes through coherent analyses of business needs and presentations of business solutions and the hoped-for success criteria.
At the end of the day, most of the work rest on the shoulders of CIOs, being the key figures that understand the business side of things and have the ability to translate business needs into technology solutions.