Mind the Gap: Aligning Business and IT
Aligning business and IT is a serious goal for modern organizations. The rapid pace of technological innovation requires the introduction of new tools and processes to cope.
The importance of business and IT alignment is widely understood and reflected in the concept’s prevalence in IT-maturity and best-practice conversations. What’s less understood is the substance: what does “aligning business and IT” really mean and how do organizations make it a reality.
All together now … strength in unity
To understand and solve any problem, we need to uncover the source.
Broadly speaking, experience tells us that the lack of business and IT alignment is a cultural issue on both sides of the equation. IT teams that classify and treat projects as “IT projects” instead of “business projects” demonstrate the IT cultural bias, as does referring to a project as an “IT project,” which isolates it from the wider business from the start, making it easy for IT to lose sight of the desired business outcome.
In the end, there is no such thing as just an IT project as all projects should aim to improve the business as a whole.
But cultural issues aren’t easy to overcome. They require a shift in employee mindset, which in turn requires strong leadership. This means IT leadership educating IT teams about the business strategy behind every project and continuously reinforcing it until that approach becomes second nature.
Today’s IT leader must be a business leader first and a technical specialist second. Organizations with this type of IT leadership will be in a better position, with business and IT alignment already prioritized, automatic and systemic.
The three best practices for aligning business and IT
1. Understand business strategy and objectives
A business strategy is the vision an enterprise is trying to realize, while objectives are the steps it takes to achieve it. Every department needs to understand the organization’s strategy and objectives and what will be required to accomplish them. Then every department and every employee is working toward the same goals.
For IT, business strategy and objectives always should factor into how projects are prioritized and planned.
2. Know your capabilities and map them to enterprise needs to identify gaps
First, you need to understand your current IT environment and the capabilities you have so you can map them to enterprise requirements. Enterprise architecture enables this understanding with an assessment of the “current state,” including assets at the organization’s disposal and the connections between them. Then you can map the current-state enterprise architecture to business goals, identifying the gaps between the current state and the desired “future state.”
IT’s goal then becomes helping the organization achieve the future state so its goals can be achieved.
3. Use a structured approach to prioritize investments
An easily understood, repeatable process supported by the appropriate technology provides a rigorous and systematic approach to IT strategy development and delivery. While employing a hodgepodge of tools that work poorly with one another – or not at all – will grind progress to a halt.
Collaboration ensures mission-critical information is discussed within a business context so IT plans can be implemented with greater understanding and less push-back.
The ultimate state – current and future – is one in which IT and the enterprise aren’t just aligned; they’ve become one and the same.
The business drives IT, and IT enables or powers the enterprise. In modern enterprises meeting and exceeding customer expectations, IT folks not only “get” the business, they “are” the business.