Fixing the Disconnect Between IT and Business

Datamation columnist George Spafford focuses on bridging the age-old gap between business and IT. Here are some steps to take to bring them into alignment.
In a recent study published by A.T. Kearney, the need for alignment between IT and the rest of the organization was brought up yet again.

Their research shows there still is a disconnection between IT and the business side. The Kearney study provides some very interesting contrasts between IT and business perspectives -- how IT aids the business and makes some sound suggestions.

First and foremost, why is alignment an ongoing issue?

There is nothing special about IT, but the problem lies in the fact that business people feel -- either rightly or wrongly -- that a communications barrier lies in between. People who aren't in IT are intimidated by that.

Plain and simple, an organization must have an objective. The various groups should then have objectives that clearly assist organization in achieving these objectives. IT must aid the business in the attainment of these objectives by adding value or mitigating risks. If it isn't assisting in the creation of value or the mitigation of risks, then there is no reason for IT to exist.

This is problematic, to say the least, as organizations run, if not exist, based on the management of information. It is inconceivable that IT can not help a modern organization of any significant size.

One of the points made in the study is that 50 percent of the business would adopt immature technology, as opposed to only 30 percent of IT. To IT people, the idea of unstable products that risk failure is currently an anathema.

Do you know why the business is so anxious to be early adopters? It's because they are the business -- they know where the entity needs competitive advantages and can trade off initial implementation and projected operations costs, plus risks, as they perceive them. Some business people do a far better job at this than others, while a short-sighted few figure they don't have to worry about ongoing support costs and risks as they can 'throw the pig over the wall' for IT to maintain if worse comes to worse.

This type of bad logic exemplifies how one area can be optimized at the expense of others or even the overall entity. The systemic consideration is that the implementation must to be gauged by true benefits to the organization versus overall costs and risks to the company. Organizations will be well-served to have in place metrics and periodic reviews of implemented projects to ensure that promised benefits and costs are within acceptable limits over time.

Structurally, no matter what is said or done, if an organization allows IT to operate as an external non-integrated unit from the business, then IT will frequently fail to deliver needed solutions because it fundamentally is not part of the business.

When we look again at the numbers regarding IT's relative avoidance of adopting immature technology, we must bear in mind what happened during the dot-com boom. IT shops largely bought into new technologies. Ignore expense and risk, we must be cutting edge! But when the promised benefits never materialized, IT suffered a scathing backlash After that, its no wonder IT tends to shy away from risky endeavors due to uncertain benefits and unknown impacts.

To have proper alignment moving forward, risky decisions must be made with the business -- not just IT. There need to be hard discussions about costs, benefits, risks and mitigation strategies from all of the stakeholders in order to arrive at the proper decision.

IT can not afford to be one step removed from the business. It must be integrated to the point that there are IT personnel embedded in the business, working hand in hand with their business colleagues. These people should be hired because of their technology, business and communication skills.

Together, the business and IT can make a radical difference. IT must evolve from a model that emphasizes pushing technology at the business to one that works with the business.

In closing, the A.T. Kearney report has many interesting insights in it. Both IT and business leaders are encouraged to read the study and carefully review how they can improve their utilization of IT to truly make a difference.

People who read the report should consider what causes the alignment problem, and what must be overcome in order for IT to be part of the business. They also should identify, implement and support technology to be successful.






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