In a new post at Insurance Networking News Ara Trembly provides a balanced perspective on IT/business misalignment (Business/IT Misalignment: Whose Responsibility?). He describes the problem as cultural, more amenable to relational than management solutions. His conclusion sums it up: “Take a geek/suit to lunch today!”
To me (speaking as an IT professional) IT should take the initiative to solve the problem. Quoting Trembly, “business executives … make decisions, but they are for the most part mystified at the magical incantations and actions that produce IT results” and “IT people, on the other hand, are jealous of the sheer power wielded over them by business people who just don’t get IT.” In other words, business people contend with an emotional and a substantive problem, “fear and lack of knowledge,” while IT people have only the emotional problem of jealousy.
If we take the emotions out of the picture (its just a job, right?) then that leaves IT folks with knowledge that business people need in order to maximize the value of IT and efficiency of business processes. Ever since mainframes roamed the prehistoric rain forests of the ’60s application developers have often been the most knowledgeable about how business processes really work, understanding both the intricacies of the application logic and how business people use the system to get things done. These individuals can add value to the business discussion by bringing their knowledge to the table in a way that business people can understand.
In many organizations IT manages the forum in which these conversations can occur: the requirements process. In my experience a good requirements process is long enough for the business and IT teams to get to know each other, offers generous opportunity for both structured and unstructured conversations about business needs, and brings together knowledgeable business and IT participants. IT is typically able to bring the insights of seasoned application developers to the fore in a well planned requirements effort.
Yes, everyone has responsibility to “cultivate personal relationships based on mutual need and respect,” but IT can and should bring substance to the relationship in requirements definition.
Well said. I like the idea of IT taking up the reins and going for it when it comes to establishing better relationships, and certainly IT has substance to bring. But can we really “take emotions out of the picture”? Probably not, unless we subscribe to the Vulcan code of emotive flatness. The key is to leverage the parties’ emotions (on both sides) by championing personal responsibility and looking beyond our own selfish needs, jealousies or fears. If we start by magnifying, then changing the emotional climate, the results for business and IT will improve immeasurably.
Interesting articles, Bob and Ara.
A thought that crossed my mind as I read your articles is that IT has an interest in taking the initiative in making Business/IT alignment work because corporate IT is seen increasingly as just another vendor. These days, the business has other well-marketed options such as outsourcing and off-the-shelf. If they can’t get things done in-house, they know they have other options.
IT needs to provide a compelling value proposition and “sell” its services to the business customer almost as if it were competing for it’s business on the open market. As IT folk, we’re certainly incented to reach out and keep the customer relationship healthy and that biz/it alignment in balance.
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Ara and Jonathon thanks for your insightful comments, both here and at your blogs, on this topic – great stuff and I’m learning from the exchange. Ara, in answer to your comment I also wouldn’t discount relationship building as a critical element of aligning with the business, but I’ve observed a tendency of some to focus on relationship building without improving the quality of the work. In spite of my parenthetical comment, I agree you can’t have one without the other, as you correctly pointed out.
It is worth pointing out here that there’s a risk in working on the relationship without visibly improving performance. The risk is that is may be seen as image building, and, to Jonathon’s point, may reduce IT’s competitiveness in the face of potential outsourcing.