by Mark Edmead

What does the business think about IT?

Mar 17, 20155 mins
Business IT AlignmentIT LeadershipRelationship Building

Even wonder what the business really thinks about the IT department? And ever wonder what IT really thinks about the business? There is perceived or actual 'alignment' issue between the business and IT. What does this mean to the organization? It could mean that the business is not getting any value from IT. And in turn IT is relegated to a passive or order taker role. How can we correct this?

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Do you know what the business thinks about your IT department?  And more importantly, why should you care?

For the past 5 years I’ve facilitated numerous workshops on the challenge of the business/IT relationship. In these discussions I asked the business stakeholders what they thought about their IT departments. Here is a summary of what they said:

  1. IT takes too long to do anything.
  2. IT does not understand our needs or requirements.
  3. IT is too expensive.
  4. IT delivers technology that does not match our needs.
  5. IT always seem to tell us no to our requests.

Does this sound like things your business stakeholders say about your IT department? But wait — it is not just what the business thinks about IT.  I asked IT stakeholders what they thought of the business. Lets see how many you can identify with:

  1. Business constantly changes their mind about what they want.
  2. Business does not understand what we do in IT.
  3. Business comes up with IT solutions and does not ask us what we think.
  4. The business implements IT solutions on their own (then call us when it does not work).
  5. The business uses outside IT help instead of us.

These comments are not unique. I’ve seen these types of comments from organizations of all sizes and industries. Why does this disconnect exist? And why should it even matter?

It should matter because in most organizations IT is critical to the success of the business.  And the effects of not having IT aligned with the business can be devastating to the bottom line. And the bottom line is that the business and IT are not working together.  This can result in the business not taking full advantage of the capabilities of their own IT department. This means that the business that needs IT support must be getting it elsewhere.  Perhaps they utilize outside resources. Or perhaps they hire their own IT resources to perform the work they need.  In either case it does look good for the internal IT department — especially if they have the skills and competencies to perform the work needed. But what is the business to do?  They are frustrated with their own IT department. 

Convergence between business and IT is critical to the success of the organization

It comes down to the fact that there is a perceived or actual lack of “alignment” between IT and the business.  However in order to survive, companies must go beyond the classical concept of “alignment.”  When the word alignment is used, it creates the illusion that both entities are separate from each other.  Instead of alignment we need to think of the relationship in terms of convergence.  IT does not just support the business but in fact it enables and transforms the business. With true convergence, IT is a strategic partner with the business and not just an “order taker.”

Dr. Aleksandr Zhuk, President and co-founder of the Business Relationship Management Institute states: “The journey begins with understanding that an effective collaborative relationship is key to achieving desired business outcomes and it culminates with every business function within an organization working in unison to fulfill its strategic objectives.”

In order words, the relationship between the business and IT is critical to the success of the organization.   This is why the Business Relationship Manager (BRM)  is becoming an increasingly important role in many organizations. “The practice of Business Relationship Management is a powerful enabler as well as an accurate map of the road toward maximum business value realization” states Dr. Zhuk. 

The Technology Business Management Council also believes in the importance of a good working relationship between business and IT. Their mission is to “Establish and promote business management standards and practices that empower IT executives to collaborate with their business partners on identifying and executing the most impactful technology strategies for achieving corporate objectives.”

Julia King, in a Computerworld article titled “Beyond Alignment“, she stated that in a company with extreme business/IT convergence it is hard to tell IT apart from the business. Instead of viewing IT as an order taker, they view IT as an innovation engine that continually transforms the business, often enabling new revenue streams. Dr. Zhuk adds: “Maximum business value realization should be the goal of everyone within an organization including its board members, the CEO and the executive team, IT, HR, Legal, and other workers.”

One of the goals of the BRM is to grow the business by shaping demand, and marketing new ideas and opportunities that create value. To evaluate the relationship IT has with the business, ask these questions:

1. Do you know the goals, objectives and priorities of the business?

2. Do you understand what the business regards as value?

3. Are you familiar with the key business processes and functions it uses to deliver them?

4. Do you understand how the business makes decisions?

5. Does the business “trust” IT?

A BRM can help convey the business needs to the IT department and manage business expectations. BRMs act as liaisons, ambassadors, and translators. While business relationship management might be the job of one or more dedicated BRMs, it is also the way to run a successful business.  Business is a relationship—BRM is the way to foster it.