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Business-IT alignment is a strategy that prioritizes objectives around reducing costs, improving agility, and increasing the return on IT investment.
Although business and IT teams have vastly different roles and purposes, they ultimately share one underlying objective: to offer a seamless and satisfying customer experience that has a positive impact on business outcomes.
Traditionally, business professionals and IT departments operated in their functional silos, each dedicated to their area of focus. However, there has been a philosophical shift towards improving the collaboration between teams so that an enterprise’s business needs and goals can be anticipated and considered throughout the decision-making process. One DevOps technique demonstrated the many benefits associated with breaking these silos down, and its success has encouraged organizations to rethink the more traditional, compartmentalized approach in favor of improving communication and participation across departments.
The divide between IT and business is so culturally evident that it reads like a punchline to a workplace joke. Today, companies recognize the need to align IT and business: A recent *Gartner report predicts that half of the organizations worldwide will achieve increased IT-business collaboration by 2022.
In this article, we’ll look at IT-business alignment, including problems when IT and business units aren’t aligned, benefits of alignment, and even best practices and strategies to take your alignment from an idea into action.
What do you think are the problems with the current state?
Most companies can agree that business and IT aren’t working as closely as possible to optimize their service and product delivery. The oft-cited reason? Traditional business units function very differently from technology. Other reasons: Stereotypes perpetuate misconceptions about how business sees IT and vice versa. Non-IT personnel thinks IT is too technical to understand, and they might fail to recognize that IT participates in core revenue-generating activities like sales, marketing, customer service, etc.
Though these stereotypes are changing in the 21st century, different disciplines do have inherently different cultures, objectives, incentives, languages, and skillsets. It’s how writing makes sense to some people, and others are more comfortable working with numbers and spreadsheets.
Despite the elevation of roles like CTOs and CIOs, tech leadership continues to report significant struggles when attempting to collaborate with business units. You might easily recognize a problematic IT-business relationship. Indicators that these differences are hurting your company often show up in problems like:
Every organization today must become a technology business, no matter what product or service you offer. This shift is inevitable, and with it comes the concept of IT-business alignment: that IT enables business and business drives IT efforts. Neither is less necessary; both are revenue-generating.
Benefits of aligning IT and business
Aligning IT and business results in countless benefits:
- Reduce IT expenses
- Increase collaboration
- Better customer experience
- Improve ROI by fine-tuning investments
- Speed up time-to-market
- Synchronize all units to become agile
- Upskill your industry and employee knowledge
- Achieve your strategy
- Make smarter decisions in every area: infrastructure design, application lifecycles, planning and budgeting, marketing and sales, outsourcing, staffing, partnerships, and vendors, etc.
All these benefits result in top customer experiences, boosting your bottom line.
Achieving IT-business alignment: best practices
Talking about alignment and achieving it are two separate things. Achieving true IT-business alignment is difficult primarily because it’s cultural. Culture changes might seem easy—hang up value-based posters, encourage department meet-and-greets—but those efforts rarely succeed.
Instead, achieving alignment requires strategy. And that strategy should be an iterative process: define one change, put it in place, watch it perform, and decide whether to tweak it. Consider the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle to implementing change.
To align IT and business, consider these best practices:
Change your thinking, change your doing. Most companies are siloed, so marketing experts rarely work with IT, and both teams rarely see how sales talks with customers. Instead, think of all your business units, including tech, in a continuous, strategic loop. Changing your thinking means teams begin to understand other teams, so they can function better: increasing efficiency, reducing risk.
View IT as an instrument for business transformation. If you’re asking how IT can support other business units like sales, product development, and marketing, you’re still following a siloed approach. Instead, add IT to those business units: each one is equally capable of transforming the business. Integrate teams to combine business units. Explore revenue streams that IT can directly impact.
Make the customer experience the #1 factor. Every single business unit, person, and the task should be working to improve the customer experience. Aligning everyone under common language and goals that directly support the customer makes it easier to break down traditional discipline silos. Sales talk directly to customers, of course, but so do marketers and product developers. Make sure your tech teams also focus directly on the customer.
Use a single language. Every industry and every company have its lingo. While business units understand other BUs and tech-minded personnel get other tech minds, separate languages tend to keep them separate. Help demystify what every team does: start by standardizing your company language across all teams.
Be equally transparent to all departments. Continuing the theme of unnecessary mysteries, executive and management decisions should be transparent (as much as possible). What are good investments the company is making? What investments panned out poorly? A good way to know if one or several teams don’t have this clarity is to see whether they agree with or understand a recent managerial or executive decision. If it seems like the CTO simply trusted his gut or your manager played favorites, that’s a big clue that you’re not being as transparent as your staff needs.
Rotate IT and business employees to encourage understanding. A simple in-house mentorship program supports IT and business employees in bridging the IT-business gap. Put a salesperson in with a dev team and sit as a help desk agent with the marketing team for a few weeks—the cross-cultural learning will result in better understanding that will close the gap. Those inter-discipline relationships also broaden thinking, resulting in innovation.
Promote a vibrant, inclusive culture. Company culture isn’t the single key to achieving alignment, but it’s one component. Stop holding sales-only happy hours or ordering late-night pizza parties for only the help desk. Instead, promote inter-department exchange formally and informally. Schedule conversational events and speaking series. Use company money to encourage cross-functional meetings. Do this on a 1:1 level, buying lunch or coffee when an IT person and a business professional go out together or offer extra budget dollars to do this on a team level.
Understand change in humans. Take some time to learn how humans accept change and then look at change management processes that might inform what works for people—and what doesn’t.
Create an alignment plan. Before embarking ad-hoc on your alignment journey, consider some frameworks for turning your alignment efforts into an actionable strategy:
The Zachman Framework shows how one complex idea can be translated to different people for different purposes.
Organizational Change Management (OCM) offers a way to re-organize your IT depending on your purpose—which, in our case, is to better align IT and business.
I hope the above discussion has emphasized the benefits of IT and business alignment for every aspect. Now it’s time to bring business leaders and IT teams together under a single platform so that organizations can fine-tune their applications to meet target audience needs. Still, now those are trapped under business problems and trying to find out the perfect IT solutions for tech challenges software services company InovarTech is ready to extend the hand of collaboration to help them. Reach out to us for the digital transformation and application development strategy and ensure your success in the global competitive market.