If you’re in business today (especially in the Information Technology space), you’ve no doubt heard of the need to ‘align IT to the business’ or something similar…you may have even heard me talk about it (see here and here). The majority of my time in my consulting practice revolves around the idea of alignment and that’s also what I’ve devoted this blog to (although I sometimes ramble on about other topics). I live and breath in the space of alignment of IT and business…..and I’m always perplexed by the lack of understanding of what it truly means to align the technology of an organization with the business goals and practices of an organization.
What does alignment really mean? It’s simple (not really…but…): it means that you look at every aspect of your business to ensure that you are taking on the IT projects that will bring you the most benefit. These projects must fit into your strategic goals and must deliver value to your organization. It’s not really that simple..there are always political agendas, pet projects and personal quirks as well as other issues that creep into the equation. which complicates things.Â But…for the purpose of a definition, it’ll do.
So…what does any of this have to with Information Technology Leadership? Read on and see.
With proper leadership in IT groups, and proper leadership within the organization, the act of alignment can be made much simpler. Let me ‘splain. 🙂
As part of the push to align business and IT, there’s been a lot of talk of bringing ‘business savvy’ people into IT groups. To do this, organizations are sending their IT staff to business classes and MBA programs and hiring technology savvy business professionals to run IT groups. This approach is a good one because it gets your IT staff closer to the business and helps IT understand the terminology and business ‘speak’ as the rest of the organization.Â This approach is flawed though as it lacks the two-way communication that is required to truly align business and IT.
Training your IT staff on the business lexicon is all well and good…but what about training your non-IT staff on what the IT group does and what it can do for the organization? The current approach is one-way. It turns ‘techies’ into business people….but what about putting the onus of responsibility on both sides? Make the non-IT staff truly understand what IT is, what its capabilities are, and what they can do for the organization and you might open up the communication channels even further.
Mike Schaffner had a great quote in a recent blog post (read it here):
I once had a CEO tell me that one of the things she wanted in IT was people that “talk like us” meaning they understand business issues and can explain things in business terms
It’s great that the CEO understands that she needed to have IT people that understood business principles and the business lexicon. Wouldn’t it be just as important for that CEO and the rest of the organization to understand basic IT principles and what technology can do for them? More importantly, doesn’t it make sense to take some time to understand the people that work in IT?
Rather than making “them” (IT) talk like “us” (business people), why aren’t we looking for more of a two-way communication medium? Rather than forcing IT professionals to change, why not look at the organization as a whole and change the way it operates. Integrate the Information Technology professional into the organization so they can be involved from the start on any new projects and can quickly provide input on the best way forward.
So…you might still be asking “what does this have to do with Information Technology Leadership”. Well…this is what should be at the forefront of every IT leader in the world. Scratch that. It should be at the forefront of every leader in the business world.
Before you make IT personnel ‘speak business’, why not take the time to understand what drives them? Understand why they do what they do. Most times you’ll find that IT Professionals like to solve problems using technology….which is exactly what organizations need in abundance these days. Stop forcing ‘them’ to act and speak like ‘us’ and start working together to understand what IT can do for the organization and what the organization can do with IT.
In order to “lead IT”, organizations need to look for leaders on both the IT side and business side who can bridge the gap between the two worlds and help fold IT into every aspect of the business. Bring IT into the strategic planning sessions…heck….let your IT staff take a crack at leading your strategic planning sessions. You might be surprised to find that you’ve got some very savvy folks in IT today who haven’t been given an opportunity to show their true value.
If you truly want to align IT with business, you must first lead change within the organization.Â Lead the organization into a new reality and help everyone understand that IT is more than a bunch of ‘techies’…the IT group can be one of your most important assets into today’s competitive environment.
Organizations need to ensure that the proper leadership is in place within both IT and the rest of the business.Â These leaders need to understand that IT and IT personnel can be a competitive advantage.Â Organizations need to pull IT into the organization and make it an everyday part of business life rather than a necessary evil. To truly align IT with the business, leaders to lead the change that makes people say “I’ve got a meeting with IT tomorrow and I’m excited about what they can do for me” rather than “I’ve got a meeting with IT tomorrow and I’m not looking forward to it.”
An excerpt from Dr. Strouse’s article sum’s the topic up nicely:
The real problem underlying the IT business alignment conundrum is that we’re not hiring the right people in IT. The right people need strong backgrounds in both business and technology. Most IT hiring managers place too much emphasis on strong technology backgrounds.
As regular readers may know, I’ve written about this topic a few times (see here, here and here for a few samples).
I’ve spent a good portion of my career working with organization’s trying to align their business strategy with their technology. I’ve found is that the difference between success and failure in this activity is found within the people that the organization has hired.
The majority of these organizations who were successful had employees within the IT organization that could ‘speak’ to the business side of the company. The IT group wasn’t strictly technologists…they were technologists with business backgrounds. Those organizations that struggled with aligning their technology with their business goals were the ones that placed an emphasis on technology knowledge over business knowledge.
Mike Schaffner relates an interesting antecdote on this topic:
I once had a CEO tell me that one of the things she wanted in IT was people that “talk like us” meaning they understand business issues and can explain things in business terms rather than just business terms.
I’ve had similar conversations with CxO’s as well. They are tired of hearing acronyms and technology buzzwords…many just want to understand how technology can help the business achieve it’s goals.
Interesting things to think about…as are the Related Articles below. Enjoy!
Before we dive into the results, let’s set the stage with some basic info about the survey:
456 executives surveyed with about half the respondents being CIO, CTO or other senior IT executives.
90% of companies surveyed had annual revenues over $1billion.
Broad range of industries – finance, manufacturing, health care, insurance, high tech, government, etc.
Interesting tidbits from the survey:
82% of respondents believe that IT is a strategic part of their business
More than 80% of respondents believe that IT is creating significant competitive pressure in the services industry
less than 10% of respondents say IT projects meet user expectations
Surprising tidbits from the survey:
33% of the respondents said that the CIO was significantly involved in strategic planning
19% “totally agree” that their strategic planning process is effective while 46% “somewhat agree”
Let’s look at one particular topic: IT’s role in creating strategic advantage.
More than 80% of survey respondents believe that IT is a strategic asset for their business and can create competitive advantage….but only 33% of the respondents said that the CIO and/or other senior IT executives were significantly involved.
Does that make any sense? Why would you believe that your information technology can create an advantage but not ask for the involvement of the the CIO and/or other senior IT execs’ involvement?
I think the reasoning is probably pretty simple…there’s been a lot of talk about IT & Business Alignment and many senior execs understand the importance of this alignment but don’t know understand how to execute to truly align business and IT.
The only way to truly align IT and Business is to do the following:
Involve IT leadership and organization in the business planning process.
Rethink IT projects. There really isn’t “IT projects” any longer….there are only business projects that have a strategic affect on the organization.
Empower the IT organization. Stop holding the reigns tightly and let your technology people innovate.
Engage the IT organization. Want to know a secret? Salary isn’t the only thing people want…they want to feel needed, they want to learn, they want to be engaged. Find ways to keep your IT human capital engaged.
Reward the IT organization. Are you rewarding your IT personnel for the work that they do? In addition to salary, bonus and other rewards, are you giving your IT organization the credit it deserves?
Grow the IT organization. You can’t create a strategic advantage with a skeleton IT crew augmented by contractors. You have to grow your IT organization so that you have full access to the entire library of knowledge needed to compete….I don’t think you can do that with more contractors than full-time staff.
These are just a few of my thoughts…I’d love to hear some feedback and/or your thoughts.
[tags] Strategy, Information Technology, IT, technology, alignment [/tags]
Organization Alignment seems like one of those ‘touchy feely’ things that most technical folks would rather not discuss but it’s actually quite relevant to success in todays technology and project driven organizations.
Organizational alignment is the practice of aligning an organization’s strategy and culture. In other words, organizational alignment helps to ensure that ‘what gets done’ is in line with ‘how things get done’ and vice versa. For a more detailed description of organizational alignment, take a look at the article on Organizational Alignment on Vanguard Consulting’s website.
As mentioned, Organizational Alignment is the act (or art?) of aligning strategy and culture. The field of strategic planning and organizational strategy is a very well researched and fairly well covered in academia (and blogosphere) so I won’t go into the ‘strategy’ aspect but I will cover the ‘culture’ side here.What does organizational alignment have to do with project success? In my opinion, everything.
For a project to be successful, an organization must have its strategic goals aligned with its cultural values…and projects must also be aligned with the organizations’ culture and strategy. Consider the following brief example (paraphrased from Vanguard Consulting’s website):
Assume that the goal of your organization is to create a flexible service delivery model to allow you to be flexible for your clients. You’d want to make sure that the organization is aligned to meet these goals by having flexibility as a core value. You wouldn’t want to implement a ‘command and control’ structure that requires everyone to get approval before acting. The command and control structure would completely counteract the stated goal of flexibility for your clients.
The cultural aspect of organizational alignment covers ‘how things get done’ (while the strategic aspect covers ‘what gets done’). The ‘how’ covers the values, behaviors and processes for getting things done, which are things that can be addressed across the organization using various methods, such as the implementation of a Project Management Office (PMO).
Many organizations have implemented PMO’s to standardize project management methodologies, align projects with corporate strategy and act as a central point of management for all things projects. The majority of these PMO’s usually don’t address the values and behaviors across the organization. In fact, most definitions of a PMO only describe the use of a PMO to standardize project processes and align projects with strategy but values are usually overlooked.
A PMO is a good thing for most organizations but its doesn’t go far enough to ensure alignment. Standardizing project methodologies can be a good thing but standardization doesn’t go far enough to address the issues of values and behaviors. The PMO, by definition, isn’t setup to address values and behaviors but could easily be converted into an office to help align values, behaviors and process and perhaps it could be renamed the ‘Project & Alignment Office’ (PAO).
So….after all of that (and my creating the PAO!), how do we ensure project success by organizational alignment? We don’t…you can never ‘ensure success’…but we can help set projects on the path towards success by working to align the ‘how’ with the ‘what’ and the ‘why’.
Look for more to come on organizational alignment and projects…and maybe even more on the newly created PAO 🙂
Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. is a technology consultant, investor and entrepreneur with an interest in using technology and data to solve real-world business problems. He currently runs his own consulting practice focused on helping organizations use their data more efficiently. Additionally, he is the Chief Information Officer of Sundial Capital Research, publisher of sentimenTrader
Eric received his Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) in Information Systems in 2014 with a dissertation titled “Analysis of Twitter Messages for Sentiment and Insight for use in Stock Market Decision Making”. His research interests are currently in the areas of decision support, data science, big data, natural language processing, sentiment analysis and social media analysis.In recent years, he has combined sentiment analysis, natural language processing and big data approaches to build innovative systems and strategies to solve interesting problems. You can read some of his research here: Eric D. Brown on ResearchGate
In addition, he is an entrepreneur that has launched a few companies with the most recent being a company focused on proving data analytics and visualization services to the financial markets.