What does a true alliance between business and IT look like?
We hear about business and IT alignment all the time, as this ambiguous, lofty goal. But really, in the simplest terms, it means delivering high-quality technology solutions to support a business within set costs and timelines.
Ideally, business owners want to achieve a perfect harmony where their business and technology goals are complementary. They're supporting each other, fueling each other, and moving toward the same targets of higher sales, better customer support, and more productive employees with buy-in.
But many times, business goals and IT goals can become disjointed and even diametrically opposed to each other. Here's why and how to achieve better business and IT alignment.
Accountability is crucial for business and IT alignment. In one study, 40% of business owners reported that IT automation would have the most significant impact on their business in the near future. 89% of business owners expect their IT budget to either stay steady or grow in the next year.
Yet, for many companies, IT—a big piece of their infrastructure—is often misaligned with the rest of their business goals. 50% of IT projects fail because they don't have the proper time or resources. That's a lot of wasted funds, effort, and human resources that can cost your company significantly and hurt morale.
Many times when companies struggle, it's a communication issue. One department does an end-run around the other—they lack strategic alignment. The IT department goes in one direction without stakeholder buy-in. Business leadership presents a problem to IT but doesn’t understand the possibilities or how to use technology to support their business goals—they may not even know what they're asking for, and IT may not articulate an answer.
When company directors take a hands-off approach to technology, they lose out on those gains in value, time, and opportunity. CEOs and business leaders are often critically busy, so they default to thinking of technology as a problem for their IT department to “handle.” But handling isn't thriving or growing; it's treading water.
When leadership hears that users are struggling with a new system, interface, or product, there’s a tendency to assume the breakdown was with the IT department—did they consider user experience? Did they make the necessary tests?
When (and if) they explore it further, they’ll likely discover that technology missteps are actually leadership issues. IT may have created a solution that the company didn't need, or the implementation didn't meet the full scope and vision of the goal. Like any business problem, technology should start with the end goal in mind.
One of the benchmarks of a healthy union of business and technology is problem-solving. As the leader, if you go to your IT department with a business problem, automation idea, or machine learning concept, do you walk away with a better understanding of what the available technology is and how it presents a solution? Better still, do you have enough knowledge to turn around and sell it to your fellow stakeholders to secure the right support to fully realize the project?
When business and IT are aligned, it becomes a fruitful relationship. For many business owners, IT becomes this separate entity—its own department. Others often view technology people as the geeky, nerdy people on their computers behind the scenes. Maybe they're promoted to management, but when put in position, do they understand both how to motivate people AND how to support technology?
Many business owners have a lot on their plates. There’s a tendency to sweep technology under the rug (or hand it off), but if you’re a CEO, you still need that connection with your IT team. Communication is key. Your technology leadership must be well-versed, driven, and good at communicating exactly what you should or shouldn't do to solve any business problem that comes your way. Most importantly, you should be comfortable and straightforward with each other.
Think of your relationship with your CFO. The two of you likely collaborate on every business decision. You work together on projections and plans for the year. It’s a tight, collaborative relationship. As the president or CEO, perhaps you don't dive into all the nuances of your financial books, but you rely on them to provide you with the numbers you need and the solutions you require to lead your business forward.
With technology, the relationship should be the same. CEOs and CTOs or CIOs should be honest, open, and cooperative. Rather than taking a "handle this" approach, it should be a partnership—one that you can leverage for the good of the entire company. You should have trust as allies working together for a solid, shared outcome.
Technology is ever-changing and evolving. It’s not going anywhere or becoming less complex. Business leadership must align with IT so together they can build the strongest future for their company.