The concept of business-IT alignment (BITA) has gained immense conversational value. Hyped equally by vendors and the media, the topic features regularly in industry gatherings today. But a discussion with a seasoned CIO would reveal that BITA is easier to discuss than achieve. With real life examples of failed implementations and source creep resurfacing every now and again, its absence, or in other words, a business-IT disconnect, should be viewed as a serious issue calling for introspection and reassessment of internal organizational realities.
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A BITA disconnect can not only lead to bad investment choices and fund shortages in organizations, it can also damage the careers of IT leads. Given below are three early signs that will help you detect instances of business-IT disconnect, and ways to restore alignment.
Is IT involved in business discussions?
Are you (preferably with your team leads) regularly invited to participate in critical business discussions? The subjects could be: the new product stock keeping units (SKUs) to be launched, or the company's five-year expansion plan, etc. If the answer is 'no' or 'rarely', then assume that business heads do not recognize the value that IT delivers to business. It's time you got yourself involved in business discussions. Show your business colleagues how technology can prove advantageous by aligning IT strategy with the business road map of the company.
Do your business peers understand IT?
Business managers focus on aspects such as profitability, sales growth, competition analysis, marketing strategy, etc. But it's crucial for them to know how technology can help them achieve business goals. Observe whether business heads and users in your organization make an attempt to understand the role of IT and how the IT team operates. An absence of such effort signals a lack of business-IT alignment. To avoid this, define measurable KPIs for every IT project your team undertakes, before and after implementation. This will help your business colleagues to clearly understand the benefits delivered IT. It will also justify the investment made on IT and its RoI. In addition, organize regular IT training programs for business users in your organization throughout the year.
Do business heads take an active interest in IT?
More on BITA
CIO and BITA: How critical, how relevant?
Interview: Essar Group's IT honchos on BITA challenges
Arun Gupta: What enables BITA?
BITA is elusive: Survey
Definition: What is business IT alignment
Does your marketing or finance head come to you only when he needs his iPad fixed, or does he also engage himself in IT strategy discussions? That will show you if business-IT alignment is in operation. Create a technology review committee roping in heads of various functions such as operations, HR, accounts, materials, maintenance, etc., and task it with reviewing and monitoring the top 10 strategic IT initiatives being carried out in the organization. This will not only insure involvement of senior management in IT projects, it will also make those projects successful. It will ensure that every IT project is aligned with business goals, eliminating room for any disconnect.
Unless business-IT alignment is achieved and sustained, top management will regard IT as a mere support function; worse, a cost center. To change this perception, the CIO should also invest time and energy in encouraging the team to look beyond technology and develop skills such as communication, planning, and people engagement. Only a holistic approach can realign the disconnect between IT and business.
About the author: Rajesh Kumar is the IT head at Aditya Birla Group, and has been associated with the company for the last four years. He has more than 16 years of experience across areas such as ERP, product development, managing multi-location IT operations, and strategic IT planning. A skilled communicator, Rajesh is known for his ability to unite and motivate large cross-functional teams to achieve common business goals.