Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying: “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” It typically takes less than three meetings for the relationship between business and IT to suffer the same fate within an IT Steering Committee (ITSC). The euphoria of creating an ITSC with quotes heralding a time of new IT/business teamwork to support growth and change is quickly replaced by indifference and apathy.
Why is this? Why does the business quickly become disengaged in ITSC meetings? Unfortunately, the ITSC meetings quickly devolve, with the CIO doing most of the talking while participants are focused on answering emails or taking advantage of the time by napping. If this is how your meetings are going, it is time to reinvigorate the ITSC.
There are three simple activities to revamp the ITSC and renew the IT-business relationship:
1. Update the guiding principles
This is a one-time exercise that helps reengage the business. Work as a team to develop or update guiding principles for how projects are identified, selected and prioritized. The guiding principles need to ensure clear, two-way communication so that IT is not just an "order taker." IT needs to be able to ask why a project is necessary and make suggestions for alternative solutions that could be more cost effective. On the other hand, business needs to be in a position to turn down IT suggestions for implementing new, unproven technologies that may not add value. This helps keep both organizations from succumbing to the urge of chasing the newest, shiniest ball.
Additional principles around how to develop and approve IT operational budgets are also critical. While the CIO can take the first stab at updating the guiding principles, the ITSC members should provide input before final approval. This ensures buy-in from all participants.
The updated guiding principles should be clearly communicated across business and IT so there is no confusion when projects are identified, evaluated, approved, prioritized and executed.
2. Let business do most of the talking
The key to maintaining the right level of interest and participation is to talk about major upcoming business initiatives and the possible impact on IT. Do not dive into technical solutions immediately! If an IT need is brought up, probe to determine how much research business has done to identify a solution. Focus on exhausting process or organizational solutions to solidify an IT need.
Once the IT need has been identified, create a combined business/IT team with responsibility to work through the requirements, system alternatives and recommendations before the next ITSC meeting. Create a realistic business case with a well thought out budget so the business lead can present the results of the team's effort.
Going through this exercise as an ITSC helps prevent unnecessary IT spend. A new marketing and sales program may not require a multimillion-dollar CRM system. Something as simple as modifying existing reports could suffice.
3. Ditch the boring operational reports
Be careful when it is IT’s turn to share. Nothing drives a business person on the ITSC to start emailing from their smart phone faster than a jaunt through a series of uptime reports. Adding a series of technical acronyms only makes it worse, pushing most to start thinking about lunch.
Instead, spend time sharing upcoming operational activities that could have an impact on business. Consider the audience and the metrics that are important to them. How does your activity impact those projects, decisions, timelines and budgets?
One example of a meaningful conversation is upcoming upgrades that could create operational system downtime. Work with the business to coordinate schedules to reduce the chances of major shutdowns. Upgrading the GL during the middle of year-end close is probably a bad idea.
Rejuvenating the ITSC is only slightly less difficult than getting rid of the stench of rotten fish. However, a smoothly functioning ITSC is critical to having IT and business work together as a team to support growth and change. Getting the two working together just takes a little elbow grease. Just remember to add bleach to get rid of the fish stench.
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