IT vs Business

IT vs Business

As we move into the age of the "digitised economy", many management theorists agree that organisational missions will only be achieved through the integration and alignment of business strategies, business processes, IT strategies and IT operations.

This move towards the "digitised economy" has changed the capital and operating expenditure management processes within most organisations. Certainly the sheer magnitude of IT as a portion of capital expenditure has been a major challenge for management over the past decade. Unlike more traditional expenditure such as physical plant and equipment, it is not unusual to see the relative newness of IT cause apprehension in management regarding their ability to manage this outlay. Having said this, there appears to be little reason why management should not be able to deal with this new part of the production process.

In addition, the "two tribes" mentality is all too common. In these organisations, management and users have a poor or even adversarial relationship with the technologists, while the technologists have a poor appreciation of the business environment with ideas that the user community considers (with some justification) too abstract for practical use. Such tension can cause poor communication and misalignment of priorities, and may become self-perpetuating.

As many readers will attest, such a situation is not easy to overcome. A.T.

Kearney's experience indicates that there is no magic bullet for this issue.

However, one of the best ways of overcoming it is through education and cultural adjustment. In particular, three groups must be educated in strategic application of IT:1/. IT professionals on the specific business fundamentals so they have a frame of reference when communicating with operational and functional professionals2/. Operational and functional managers on the effective application of IT to create business value3/. Non-IT executives with IT management responsibility on how to best manage the IT function to create optimal business valueThe first aspect of change is to educate IT about the business. While it is generally agreed that IT should be more business focused, in truth there has been limited progress on this in the last decade. Ongoing cries of frustration include:"While IT may understand the specifics of what business users do, IT frequently does not understand why it is done.""Some IT requests and decisions clearly reflect a lack of understanding of the real business issues.""IT seems to run an agenda different to the main business agenda."Such criticisms are typically magnified in larger organisations where operational IT staff work within a larger self-contained group and thus are more distant from management and users. There are a number of techniques available to remedy this situation.

1/.Assign IT staff to support specific processes rather than specific technologies.

2/. Reinforce the use of business value oriented justification techniques for work/equipment requests.

3/.Provide secondment opportunities for IT staff into the business groups they support.

4/.Conduct "brown-bag" meetings to communicate and explain the business forces and strategies that underpin IT activities and directions.

5/.Develop and communicate how the IT mission/goal supports the business mission/goal.

Clearly, it is incumbent on IT to clean up its own act before requesting that management and users change. Next month's column will address how to assist management and users to change.

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