by John Edwards

7 tips for better business-IT alignment

Nov 22, 2021
Business IT AlignmentIT Leadership

In a rapidly changing world, IT and business leaders need to work together to steer their enterprise in the right direction.

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Credit: iStock

Has your enterprise fallen out alignment? Telltale symptoms include pulling in the wrong direction, poor control, and perhaps worst of all, degrading productivity and results.

When IT and business teams fail to align, all parties can expect a bumpy ride. “Digital transformation is driving fundamental change in how an organization delivers value to its customers,” says Sameer Bhagwat, vice president and head of the application managed services center of excellence at IT and business consulting firm Capgemini Americas.

Bhagwat notes that, with the entire business ecosystem now interconnected, enterprises must be nimble to address ever-changing business needs and market requirements. “When IT and the business are aligned properly, leaders can achieve their objectives more effectively,” he states.

Is your enterprise heading in the wrong direction? Then consider the following seven tips for bringing IT and the business into better alignment.

1. Know thy business

The CIO is no longer just a technologist. In today’s ecosystem, the CIO is also a business decision-maker, says Michael Pusateri, CEO and founder of Siepe, a public cloud managed services and data analytics provider.

A CIO needs to understand the entire business as well as any existing or potential technology pain points. By focusing on the business challenge at hand, a CIO can help management craft a multidimensional solution to a problem instead of simply providing advice from a technological perspective.

“This allows a CIO to develop or choose a solution that’s right for the business, as opposed to just picking the latest technology that may not address the needs of the business at its current stage,” Pusateri says.

Fluid communication between the CIO and the CEO ensures better transparency and a more accurate forecast of how the enterprise will move forward, Pusateri observes. CIOs should also play a central role on strategic planning committees, as well as during the overall corporate planning process.

“The CIO is then empowered to come up with the best technology solutions to execute on the CEO’s vision instead of being pulled in many directions by individual business units,” Pusateri explains. 

2. Strengthen management relationships

As well as working alongside the CEO, a contemporary CIO also needs to align with enterprise leader counterparts in sales, marketing, finance, human resources, and other key management areas. “Collaboration across these functions is critical to being ready for the next wave of opportunities,” says Sheri Rhodes, CIO for Workday, a human resources, payroll, and financial management software services provider.

Rhodes notes that a strong CIO/CFO partnership, for instance, can lay the foundation for a successful innovation engine. “Our CFO, Robynne Sisco, and I have been working more closely than ever before to discuss digital transformation and rethink the balance of our business priorities,” she says.

Poor departmental alignment and siloed decision-making can hamper an organization’s ability to respond quickly to changes in its internal or external environments, Rhodes observes. This flaw can, over time, adversely affect initiatives in areas as diverse as network upgrades, collaboration tools, office sharing, cloud applications, and infrastructure, she says.

“We use the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) framework to help drive collaboration and alignment, which ultimately helps us to become more agile and achieve our desired results,” Rhodes states. “Companies that are unified and well-equipped to quickly react to changing needs are more likely to create the most successful and long-lasting digital strategy”

3. Form cross-functional teams focused on key business areas

Beyond reaching out to enterprise colleagues, Matt Mead, CTO at technology modernization firm SPR, suggests fostering an organizational environment that encourages the formation of interdepartmental teams in key business areas, such as product development, marketing, and sales. Such collaborative relationships will help transform IT from a cost center into a strategic business player, he says. “Becoming a strategic partner … will position IT to be a higher-valued department with more trust and respect.”

Mead adds that enlisting IT personnel to collaborate with fellow enterprise experts will open the door to fresh concepts and approaches. It will encourage staff to think strategically about product and service goals, as well as to develop innovative technologies with defined business objectives. In all, it can lead to a better-aligned IT organization, one that’s focused on reaching enterprise objectives rather than just technology goals.

Additionally, in a world where IT professionals are in high demand and retention has become more important than ever, an IT department that works closely with business colleagues can achieve a higher degree of relevance and visibility. “This … can create a greater sense of purpose and importance that can help it retain top IT talent,” Mead says.

4. Leverage full-stack observability

A key component in any IT organization’s toolkit is full-stack observability. Monitoring the entire IT stack makes it possible to identify potential discrepancies before they can become serious problems. “[It] provides the crucial ability to directly show impact on business outcomes,” says Joe Byrne, vice president of technology strategy and executive CTO at Cisco’s AppDynamics, an application performance management and IT operations analytics service provider.

By understanding how changes to the IT stack can affect the end-user experience and overall business success, CIOs can help optimize business functions, adjusting resources and time to the areas that matter most, Byrne explains. “This can equip CIOs with the expertise to influence innovation and digital transformation in ways that will benefit both business and IT teams.”

5. Align IT KPIs to enterprise outcomes

Aligning IT KPIs with enterprise outcomes is a relatively easy way to make IT operations more relevant to business counterparts, says Capgemini Americas’ Bhagwat. With the arrival of digital transformation, customer-centricity has become essential for long-term business success.

“The latest advancements in AI and automation, and how they can help with issue resolution, is one example of how IT has a direct impact on business KPIs,” he notes.

Additionally, new KPIs directly related to customer experience may need to be introduced by the IT team to meet business requirements focused on customer satisfaction. “The entire business ecosystem is interconnected, and businesses need to be nimble to address ever-changing business needs and market requirements,” Bhagwat says. In addition, customer sentiment and experience are becoming increasingly important to retain a competitive edge. “Translating this market reality into IT requirements needs a close alignment between business and IT.”

When IT and the business are aligned properly, business leaders can achieve their objectives more effectively, Bhagwat observes. Meanwhile, once proper alignment is in place, “it’s easier for the CIO to justify their budget and specific initiatives, as they are directly relevant to the goals of business stakeholders.”

6. Foster a DevOps approach

While improved business and IT alignment has been a goal for decades, both groups remain largely at loggerheads. Inspiration for achieving better relations can be found by looking to the example set by DevOps, a combination of cultural philosophies, practices, and tools that aims to align software development and operations, two historically misaligned teams, says Dan Graves, CTO at DevOps platform provider Delphix. “A company has to make the conscious choice to change and invest in the transformation.”

For business and IT alignment to successfully occur, both sides must be willing to come together to produce better outcomes for all stakeholders, Graves explains. The traditional model of gathering business requirements, building something for a year, and returning with a big new thing is now failing to keep pace with a faster, leaner competitive environment. “Only through strong alignment can new products and services drive the best business outcomes,” he says.

7. Consider composability

Roman Stanek, CEO of GoodData, a business intelligence and big data analytics software provider, advocates composability as a useful business/IT alignment tool. Composable data analytics demolishes collaboration-stifling business silos with an approach that’s designed to provide greater and deeper business insights. This method also allows business leaders who aren’t well versed in SQL to easily access and customize data insights.

A no-code user interface places the power of analytics directly into the hands of business users, fostering closer business-IT alignment. “In this type of composable enterprise, business units function laterally to achieve the goals of the entire organization with more collaborative and free-flowing operations,” Stanek says. “With composable analytics, enterprises can become more dynamic and agile, develop new applications, and connect to new ecosystems more quickly and easily.”