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IT executives must align technology with business



By DD Mishra


Currently a partner at CIO Specialist Advisory LLP, DD Mishra has more than 19 years of experience in IT. He has played key roles, including IT governance and outsourcing, program and portfolio management, consultancy, presales and delivery for various customers in the UK, India and Singapore and has experience from both the buyer side and seller side. He is a member of the Discover Performance community's IT Strategy & Performance LinkedIn group.


Partnerships cannot develop unless the parties involved are aligned. When an organization matures, IT can move from its role as cost center to value creator. To get there, the CIO must participate in the business and be seen as a business leader; a business that fails to involve the CIO in such a manner will miss out on the potential that technology can deliver to its top line or bottom line.


CIOs who view every opportunity through the narrow window of technology risk extinction. Today's CIOs are business-oriented and speak business more than they do about underlying technology. So how do CIOs align IT with business? It’s a transformation achieved only by alignment, which can happen through the following means:


a) Understanding Business Goals: IT cannot have a different goal post than business. If it is so, then alignment will be a distant possibility. We must understand what business wants. At times we realize that business is too tactical and there is no consistent strategy in place. In such a situation, the role of a CIO is to help business develop a strategy, even if it requires him to walk straight up to the CEO to share his perspective. Once business goals are visible, aligning IT goals with them becomes easy. 


b) From technology to sociology: Successful change requires more sociology than technology. In order to drive consistent business value, CIOs need to socialize more with business leaders to remove barriers in communication and understanding, and create opportunities for alignment. 


c) Setting up right enterprise architecture: Many will wonder why robust enterprise architecture is the key to business alignment, as it is more to do with technology. As robust architecture removes complexity and adds simplicity, driving change and transformation becomes easier. It reduces time to market, and cuts cost of operations and TCO, which is the key. It brings CIOs closer to business by creating customer delight and increasing operational efficiency.


d) Cross-pollination of business with IT: Cross-pollination of staff in business and IT will bring business knowledge and reduce the gap between the two. More often, CIOs bring business representatives into the IT organization to create an interface with business. This improves perceptions, makes IT and business understand each other's pain points better and builds an environment of togetherness. When IT folks go to business, they understand the pain points and create right expectations. Alignment becomes a natural outcome, once IT and business start talking the same language without jargon and gaps in terminologies. 


e) Business SLAs and KPIs: It is important to discuss the services that IT delivers and what it means to business. How does business measure the success of IT? How does IT guarantee consistent performance and improvement while contributing to business KPIs? What SLAs & OLAs has IT signed with business? How can IT and business make improvements to guarantee business success? Answers to these questions will help IT become more business-focused. 


f) Communication: Not many CIOs talk of success stories of their departments. CIOs need to communicate both internally and externally, while being visible on national and international platforms. Communication is most important for IT's success and business alignment. CIOs need to change perception for better business alignment, as perception is often reality and not vice-versa. 


g) Driving change and innovation: CIOs have matured and transformed from Chief Information Officers to "Change and Innovation Officers." Organizations where CIOs are catalysts of change and innovation have seen IT as a partner in business and have gained more credibility and respect. CIOs, with their knowledge of business and technology, are uniquely placed to drive innovation and change. 


h) From cost center to value creator: IT has traditionally been seen as a cost center. A successful CIO will always look at value first and then cost. IT should do things to support and create a business outcome rather than a technology outcome. Ideally, initiatives in IT should be such that they create opportunities that pay for themselves. By creating value, a CIO gains recognition and is viewed more as a businessperson. The ROI is compulsory with cost saving and revenue generation objectives. 


i) Managing business demand: Saying no, at times, helps—but IT must also convey the reasons for saying no to business. This will help business understand its perspective. This is because sometimes business thinks of IT as a bottleneck, and this may hinder alignment. A robust portfolio management process based on business priorities is the best way to spread investments, which are quite scarce at times. Moreover, IT should create business sponsorship for various programs. 


j) Consistent measurement of user satisfaction: We also need to measure continuously what business wants, and this comes through feedback and measurement. CIOs must conduct periodic CSAT surveys and measure satisfaction while rolling out customer-centric initiatives. 


Transformation of a CIO from being a technology steward to a business leader is a painful process, but it is possible through consistent focus and execution. Perception about IT in most organizations plays an important roadblock, and in my experience takes long time to change. In my view, CIOs should embrace change and continuously focus on the points discussed above. After all, in this ever-changing world, change is the only constant.


Related links: Leader or laggard: How do you rate?

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