Everyone seems to agree that the form and content of “alignment” has forever changed. But all of the conventional arguments about business and technology “silos,” the commoditization of IT, and new technology leadership skill sets — while legitimate — miss some important points.
Let’s look at the evolution of the business technology relationship from “alignment” to “partnership” and three things that must be absolutely true to take the relationship to the next level. These things can be located along continua that you can use to determine how sophisticated your alignment-to-partnership strategy really is.
There are three paths in the alignment-to-partnership journey: 1) We have to appreciate business pain and pleasure, 2) We have to become more than just credible, and 3) We have to define business value around strategy.
If you understand these paths, you can redefine the business technology relationship — I mean really redefine the relationship.
Pain –> Pleasure
Let’s assume that you understand where the business feels pain — and how it would define pleasure. Remember that the business expects technology to reduce its pain — defined, of course, around cost reduction.
But it’s more than that. Business managers worry about their supply chains, their competitors, their manufacturing, distribution and, of course, their margins. The technology agenda needs to speak directly to their pain points — which, when relieved — can become the sources of wide and deep pleasure.
If you become a dispenser of pleasure as you reduce pain, you’re credibility will rise — which will reveal the second path to business technology partnership.
Credibility –> Influence
Hopefully we’re credible. Hopefully when technologists walk into a room the business managers don’t run for cover or — worse — attack them mercilessly for their sins (network crashes, Web site debacles … you know the drill).
Nirvana here is influence — defined in terms of how the business thinks about how and where technology can help. Does the business respect you enough to confide in you, to commiserate with you, to invite you to brainstorm about its strategy? Who do you drink beer with?
Operations –> Strategy
If you’re influential, you can shape both operations and strategy. If you get operations straightened out, you can spend most of your time — with your new partners — thinking about competitive advantages, revenues and profitability. There’s no better place to work, no better way to spend your time.
Three Easy First Steps
The partnership described here can be engineered by creative, proactive and motivated business technology professionals. Here are three steps you can take tomorrow.
Step 1: Make of list of the things that cause your business partners pain, and then rank-order them — from their perspective, not yours. Think like them. The more you do the better the list will be. Work with your partners to validate and improve the list. Then spend some time brainstorming about what your business partners think are the really good things that can happen for them — once their pain gets relieved.
Step 2: Honestly assess your credibility with the business. If it’s high, then think about how to become influential. Some tips here include working through your partner’s prism and then supporting the execution of your partner’s plans. Once a baseline credibility is established, then transition to influencing important operational and strategic processes. But if your credibility is low, then you have to build it up slowly but surely, principally by delivering effective pain relievers.
Step 3: Use your new-found influence to contribute to strategic planning. The best way to do this is to initiate ideas, models, and pilots. Your partner will appreciate your skin in the game. The prefect outcome here is for your partner to rely upon your insight so much that it would be inconceivable for a new strategic initiative to launch without your fingerprints all over it.
So if you achieve this partnership, what do you give up?A little bit of yourself, a little bit of your experience and a little bit of your credibility with your legacy peers. What’s that? Yes, because true partnership means that some people get a little less of your time and interest than they used to, that you should probably no longer play cards with the data center crowd, and that you’ll have to start reading all new trade publications. You might also have to buy some suits.