Some leading companies already move beyond the IT/business alignment stage, and jump start to IT engagement era.
Business and IT leaders have talked about the need for IT/business alignment for well over a decade. Yet…it's still an issue for many companies, why? Beyond alignment, for the majority of IT organizations, what’re roadblocks IT needs to overcome and move up to become a strategic partner for business?
1. Lack of Communication
Communications are the key to any business success; unfortunately, for most organizations communications are abysmal, either through indifference or intentionally making it so. One of the primary roles of the CIO should be "Chief Interaction Officer". The CIO must ensure that the IT organization is respected by all business units as a trusted, collaborative partner and adviser to the business.
Without effective communication, the business often doesn't understand how IT can help, and IT doesn't know what the business needs. The business thinks they know what they need, or the IT department thinks they know what the business needs. This becomes a problem when one side moves forward without communicating with the other side. If the CIO and the business regularly communicate their needs, the problems above could be avoided.
2. Lack of IT Role Refining
All too often, IT acts like an order taker, many businesses still view IT exclusively as a cost center. If the business doesn’t view IT as being on the same level, they won’t properly communicate (or align) with the IT department. In order to be business partners, The CIO must have a "seat at the table" and a voice to holistically advise on strategic business discussions and decisions, transform IT into rule co-maker.
CIOs need to spend the time to understand the business issues enough to push back on what they asked for and explain how alternatives can provide more value. This is extremely difficult to without spending significant time learning the business. IT continues to grow in importance to organizations, both operationally and as a competitive advantage, IT needs to clearly define its role as a value creator for business.
3. Lack of a long-term Strategy
In many companies, the mission and vision of the company become wrapped in silos, secrecy, and ambiguity; employees turn to be disengaged from the business. IT initiatives can take weeks, months, or years and carry hefty budgets. If leaders want to use technology to move the needle in their business and be a profit center, then planning on 1,2, 5, and 10-year projections are necessities. Of course, directions and tactics may change frequently and plans need to be adapted, but it's far better to have a plan than daily ad-hoc.
With a long-term strategy, IT can be the driver of new opportunity, opening doors beyond anything possible for the business, and should be actively engaged as a financial tool in increasing profitability and market shares.
4. Lack of Process Alignment
A well defined and respected governance process for communication, decision making, and execution is essential. CIOs would do well to regularly verify, reinforce, and re-verify, etc. IT credibility is not just based on the business alignment of the CIO, it's based on the business alignment of ALL the key players in the IT organization...or lack thereof.
IT mission is to serve customers. That means both internal and external clients, but to serve does not mean that IT owns the process. The business owns the process and the data, and also has responsibilities assuring that governance, and regulations are followed. Only through cohesive IT-business collaboration and process integration, the business strategy can be executed and IT projects can be delivered smoothly.
5. Lack of Open Culture & Resources
In most organizations, many of these alignment challenges are not exclusive to IT yet the symptoms are often more visible in IT due to the fact that IT work touches, serve, and supports virtually every aspect of the enterprise. These challenges are not easily solved and can not be addressed through the use of a tactical project management approach. These are Leadership and Cultural challenges. They can only be solved by strong "C" level leaders who understand these challenges and work to build organizational culture and structure to eliminate them. Fortunately, there's a fundamental shift happening with the emergence of converging technologies that impact the business through cross-departmental collaboration. When CIOs realize they need more visibility, communication, and better tools to empower that to increase project success rates, IT organization become an area of focus for Agile IT initiatives which requires tools and resource to enable business engagement.
Some leading companies already move beyond the IT/business alignment stage, jump start to IT engagement era, in order to better adapt to today's cloud/social/ mobile ecosystem. Be real, be engaged, seek to engage others, Lead through example, be known as approachable, passionate, and above all truly care about the most valuable resource you have, your fellow employees, then IT can overcome barriers on the way to becoming business partners.