Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How to Improve IT-Business Relationship and IT Maturity

IT organization has to move from a reactive order taker and back-office support function to a strategic partner and business catalyst.

Nowadays, IT can no longer run in the silo, IT is business, for many years, “IT-business alignment” is the mantra for keeping IT work more closely with business, with digital nature of business interconnectivity and across functional interdependence, organizations are going through profound changes in technology, business, economy ecosystem. Just like strategies need to continuously change to respond to these dynamics, so does the IT-business relationship. Is alignment still a good term to describe such momentum? Regardless which term do you use, how can you harness business-IT partnership and continue to improve IT maturity?

Alignment is a continuous process that demands continuous attention: Alignment addresses both how IT is aligned with the business and how business should or could be aligned with IT. Terms such as integration, engagement, collaboration, harmony, link, fuse, affiliation, coalition, fit, match, meld, convergence are frequently used synonymously with the term alignment. Most dictionaries divide alignment into two categories; arrangement and alliance. Those organizations that have a more mature alignment maturity outperform their competitors and tend to be more responsive to these changes. Alignment goes beyond conformity and order taking, it needs to include a close partnership with interpersonal communication, value analytics, and governance. The alignment also shouldn't mean the rigid business processes to stifle innovation, it means more about business working as a whole to improve communication, harness partnership, demonstrate value and engage employees. Whatever term you prefer, it is a persistent and pervasive problem that demands an ongoing process to ensure that IT and business strategies adapt effectively and efficiently together. Perhaps the most important thing is recognizing that there is significant research available that demonstrates the relationship of alignment to firm performance.


Collaboration, engagement, and harmony: It means having IT and business collaborate as equal partners so that strategies, projects, organizations, people, etc, work in harmony, such that initiatives, especially those focused on leveraging IT to increase revenues are successful. This collaboration entails effective communication, governance, value analytics, partnership, technology scope, and people skills. All these need to be effective to have mature alignment, and that organizations with higher and stronger maturity outperform organizations with lower maturity. Having alignment once again at the top of global management concerns is indicative of the persistent, pervasive conundrum. It is not a question of being aligned or not aligned. It is recognized as a fundamental initiative to improve the important IT-business relationship that is essential to success. Also, even in mature alignment, there is likely to be one organization/executive more dominant than the others; that is a factor of multiple considerations (culture, personalities, position, strategic impact).

Digital maturity: Regardless what you call it (alignment, collaboration, integration, harmony, etc), let’s work on identifying opportunities for enhancing the IT-business relationship and improve IT maturity. The only part of it that can be passé is the word itself. The concept, whatever word is applied is fundamental to the business. If IT and the business aren't a team working together toward the same goals, then the end result will be diminished.  This is especially true in today’s world where the global business environment, organizations, and technology are continuing to experience dramatic change at an accelerated pace, driving the role of IT to become increasingly more complex and challenging. Hence, as IT has become mission critical, it is imperative for IT and business leaders to work effectively and efficiently together to ensure that they are leveraging IT across their organization to attain enterprise-wide transformation; not just using IT as a digital extension. SMAC (Social, Mobile, Analytics, and Cloud) technologies are transforming industries as well, both OPEX and CAPEX for IT department/systems are funded based on what people use, support and makes profit and delight customers or meet regulations - way down a buried in investment is the technology and constructional stuff - databases, disks, and wires. And IT becomes more “I-formation driven” capability and intelligence. The success of the business depends on the success of IT, and if IT-business alignment (or whatever word you prefer) is not effective/mature, the likelihood of success is diminished.


We live in a technology world and every day more and more technology affects the way we live, love, and think. Great opportunity, danger, and disruption are around every corner. Based on the fact that most of IT organizations still get stuck at lower level of maturity (reactive, order taking), the more important thing is to work on the activities and considerations that need to be addressed to enhance the IT-business relationship (whatever you call) to help organizations become agiler and proactively adapt to the changes, moving up from efficiency, effectiveness to agility; from functioning to firmness to delight; IT organization has to move from a reactive order taker and back-office support function to a strategic partner and business catalyst. That is why having effective strategic, tactical, and operational governance processes, along with empathetic communications (IT understands the business and the business understands IT), partnerships, highly skilled digital professionals (IT and non-IT), and value metrics are ALL essential, with the goal to attain Level 5 maturity -IT "is the business," innovation engine and game changer.




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