According to a recent report by LSA Global, highly aligned companies have recorded growth in revenue 58% faster and are 72% more profitable than their misaligned counterparts.
While it’s nearly a truism to say that any organization’s IT should be ideally geared towards attaining its stated business objectives, the degree of growth obtained from doing so is certainly surprising. Clearly, more and more organizations are waking up to the magic of internal IT-business alignment. A recent Gartner report predicts that nearly 50% of global organizations will achieve increased IT-business collaboration by 2022.
What is Business-IT Alignment?
IT-business alignment essentially refers to internal organizational coordination in which IT objectives are brought in line with the business goals of the organization. This slowly results in a laser-focused IT strategy that’s not just efficient in serving the needs of internal and external customers, but actively works towards attaining business objectives through improved business agility, and greater innovation.
Here are the six effective tactics to foolproof IT-business alignment in your organization:
Shape close business relationships
Organizations need to break silos for good and foster close dialogues between teams, functions, and employees to shape close business relationships. It’s important that IT leaders should be aware of and discuss current imperatives with business leaders across the organization. Committing to a culture of earnest, insightful discussions can help build understanding of disparate functions among employees and an appreciation of their shared challenges and innovation.
A business leader may get excited about the potential of a new technology, but it’s up to the IT leader to lay bare the mechanics of its implementation, potential pitfalls, challenges, and limitations in easy to understand terms. Business leaders, on the other hand, need to transparently lay out business needs and plans, so IT has a clear direction. That way IT leaders can always remain context-aware of business imperatives and modulate IT initiatives accordingly.
While fostering trust can be easy to preach and hard to achieve, the cost of not doing so can be disastrous. Misaligned IT and business interests can serve a death blow to trust with rampant skepticism in technology strategies, reduced patience, and going into unproductive levels of detail in planning. Crisp decision-making, including potentially high-risk endeavors in successful organizations comes from a place of trust and confidence in its IT capabilities.
Measure with metrics
Metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) do more than offer assessment. They can provide insight into the business outcomes of mission-critical systems and processes. They can also serve as tools to gauge the effectiveness of the alignment of IT operations with business needs. IT efficiency metrics and business metrics should be available to both functions with equal transparency to gauge alignment.
Rotate IT and business employees to encourage understanding
While bridging the existing gap in alignment can appear to be a herculean task, a simple in-house mentorship program for IT and business employees can go a long way to address it. The agenda is to foster cross-cultural learning across departmental silos through different strategies and innovative initiatives to promote understanding. You can get creative and assign a marketing team member to sit in on developer huddles, or ask a technical team member to accompany a field sales agent for a few days. There are literally a million ways to bridge the divide and foster inter-discipline relationships.
Conduct ongoing assessments
Encouraging IT business alignment is a slow process, similar to any business optimization endeavor you may have encountered. They should ideally be approached as an open-ended project. Encouraging cross-departmental conversations is a great start, but to gauge real progress, you should conduct ongoing assessments.
A simple measure could be to check the approach of IT teams. If the alignment is going well, there should be some clear indications of switching from reactive to proactive processes. They will be moving from the nefarious break/fix mode to taking control of the processes and trying to manage or resolve issues before they have a chance to become a problem.
Learn from surveys
Surveys can be a key tool in assessing employee perception and understanding of overall business vision, current strategies, key priorities, and challenges. IT surveys are infamous for being standardized and only assessing quality of technology or technical service within various departments in a weak emulation of client-and-service provider relationships. Ideally, surveys should be designed to be more open-ended, with ample scope of individualized input on how IT can help further the business vision of the organization. Irrespective of the current core imperatives, this should give clear indications as to the IT outcomes required to reach that goal. Qualitative feedback can be just as much or even more helpful than percentages in this regard.
Reducing gaps in IT business alignment is ultimately more of a human endeavor than a technical one. One way of achieving this could be through appointing specialized business relationship managers (BRMs) that can serve as a common conduit between departments and help ‘translate’ tactfully to nurture relationships. They need to already possess a degree of fluency in each skillset of the teams they are trying to address and act as a goodwill ambassador to foster better relationships for everyone. They also need to be sensitive to each team’s core philosophy and approach towards work to both show respect and try and find common ground between teams, if any.
Nora Erspamer is the Director of Digital Marketing at New Charter Technologies, a group of companies specializing in managed IT services for Small Businesses. She is an experienced marketer and sales strategist with a demonstrated history of working in various technology industries. Skilled in strategic campaign development, lead generation, and marketing automation software. Her blog can be found at