Improving Business Results through IT AlignmentJohn LeMay
Business and IT leaders seeking improved success rates of IT projects and initiatives should focus on business-IT alignment. Aligning IT with the business helps ensure that the services IT delivers enable business growth and improve revenue.
I recently worked with a new client whose organization was experiencing issues with IT delivery. IT projects were taking longer than expected to complete and were running over budget. The business staff was unhappy with the time it took for IT to complete requests. The IT team was equally as frustrated as requests from the business lacked adequate detail or would require extensive reworking of existing applications or processes. The business and IT teams were not aligned and frustrations were running high.
Lack of alignment between business and IT continues to be a common problem for many organizations. As businesses grow, small gaps in alignment become larger ones. Left unaddressed, these gaps result in employee frustration. Team members find themselves less engaged and projects suffer or fail. This failure to align results in wasted dollars, project failures, and frustration of both business and IT workers.
Business and IT leaders can prevent these failures and frustrations by focusing on their respective strategic plans and making sure they align. The IT strategy should be simple, clear, and it should support the business strategy. For this to happen, the business strategy must first be well defined. Engaging IT leaders during the business strategy development process helps ensure that the correct level of detail is included in the business plan to allow the development of a supporting IT plan.
An IT strategic plan that is aligned with the business strategic plan ensures that the IT team, either internal or outsourced, is focusing efforts on delivering products and services that provide real value to the business. Alignment helps IT prioritize various tasks and initiatives according to what will best serve the business.
In the case of my new client, neither the business nor IT strategies had ever been documented. The IT team was operating in a reactive mode, responding to whatever requests were made by the business staff, generally in the order the requests were received. The only prioritization being done was to prioritize “problems” from “projects”. Otherwise, all problems were considered equal, as were all projects.
Due to the lack of prioritization, we found that in many cases IT delivered sooner on projects that provided less value to the business, while higher business value projects lagged. From the perspective of the IT team, less complex projects were completed quickly. More complex projects frequently required additional information from the business to complete. In some cases, projects were not completed as they required updates or additions to other systems. These projects were worked on as updated information was received, required system changes were made, and as time allowed.
During the weeks that followed, we scheduled a series of discussions focused on developing not only the business and IT strategies, but also describing the key business capabilities and their importance to the business. We documented how each application supported these capabilities. The provides the IT organization a basic method to understand the purpose and priority of each system from the perspective of the business. We also made changes to the process the business followed when requesting services from IT. The business was now able to communicate the perceived value and priority of the request to the IT team. Additionally, the business now needed to provide additional detail in their request to assist the IT team in completing the request efficiently.
We had taken the first steps in maturing the IT organization for this client. While there is more work to be done in the coming months, after only a few weeks the IT and business staff both believe they are communicating more effectively. Tensions have eased and leadership believes these first, positive steps are already showing results.