What probably does not come as a shock to many organizational leaders is that line-of-business employees do not always have a deep understanding of the IT processes and solutions that keep their operations running smoothly. Marketers and sales representative don't exactly need to know how to code their own programs, but even pervasive tech terms can throw off some employees. For example, one in five will pretend to know what the cloud is, often for a job interview. Of course, whether employees need to know what the cloud is in order to know how use it is debatable. However, it is important for line-of-business employees to understand to some extent what the organization's IT teams are doing and why they're doing it.
Integrating business and IT departments
Beyond the problem of having a fresh supply of resume-stuffing buzzwords, statistics like these highlight a disconnect between IT departments and business. The problem is that it frequently works both ways. IT personnel can get caught up focusing on technology-centric concerns without factoring in how their decisions really impact their organizations. One example of this often comes with enterprise data storage and exchange. That virtualized setup might be completely secure and well-guarded against hackers, but if the access controls are also employee-resistant, no one is going to use the IT-provisioned option. These types of situations are the result of an issue that ITWorld touched on last year when the news source collected comments from several CIOs discussing business integration.
One of the factors that led to better results for iCrossing CIO Dave Corchado was involving business teams in the technology decision making process.
"From a very high level, we hold iteration planning meetings (IPM) that pair software development teams with business unit leaders," Corchado told the news source. "Any IPM must consist of a senior business lead, a software engineer, and a technical director who also acts as both a PM and final approver; no decision for our software will be made outside this core group."
Although his comments were directed at application development, most organizations could benefit from having a non-IT stakeholder involved in critical discussions. This can help to identify what business requirements should guide the new technology as well as what weaknesses exist in current solutions. Of course, the high degree of involvement from business units does not come without challenges. Technology leaders are not always willing to give up control of their projects, and, for certain initiatives, this is understandable. Furthermore, neither side of the organization has the time to collect feedback on every single project IT works on.
This means that the business-IT alignment process needs to be governed by a framework that promotes efficiency and ensures that any involvement from line-of-business employees will actually be valuable. Corchado identified two essential questions to ask before adopting this approach:
- Does the decision have a significant impact on the business?
- Will it affect the bottom line?
While some strategies may vary, these two questions are helpful for ensuring that business-IT alignment does not become a burden and only involves other departments when necessary.
Getting everyone on the same page
So far, business-IT alignment may seem like it's a one-sided process in which IT has to open the floodgates to ever-growing employee demands. However, keeping the rest of the business in the loop regarding technology decisions will likely give employees a better idea of what is actually feasible for a project. Whenever such alignment occurs, IT should allow line-of-business teams to make suggestions and identify which ideas can be implemented given budget, security and timeline concerns. This can help business users see what their expectations ultimately mean for IT and potentially lead to ideas that are more in line with an organization's capabilities.
ITWorld also highlighted comments from Massachusetts Convention Center Authority CIO Steve Snyder, who commented on the impact getting IT and business units working together has. One effect in particular is that employees are exposed to the processes of other departments, which fosters understanding as well as creativity.
"They start thinking outside of the box and outside of the cubicle," Snyder said. "The pain points are around filtering the huge list of good ideas into a manageable list of ideas that we can execute against and develop great things from. When these wins occur we bring the entire team into the board meeting to listen to the presentation and board response."
Snyder suggested that this approach facilitates a high level of end-user adoption because business-side employees have a better understanding of IT-centric concerns. In addition, getting these employees involved from the beginning will have them using new software sooner and will create business-side subject matter experts that can train new users. This reduces the overall burden on IT and allows technical teams to focus on other key tasks like keeping that software updated and running optimally.