Industry observers have opined for some time about the perception and understanding gap that exists between business managers (and their boards) and the IT professionals who work behind the scenes to ensure our IT systems whirr away in the background, supporting us all in our day-to-day duties.
The good news, however, is that with the right strategies in place, this gap need not be troublesome. In fact, with the best strategies, there should not be a gap in the first place.
Aha! I hear you say - what magical strategies are these? Tell me, oh wise one.
Well, despite my CIO brain telling me to do otherwise, I am going to answer that question, so listen carefully before I change my mind.
The process of bridging the understanding gap between senior management and the IT management is all about the alignment of IT.
By that I mean that IT management needs to make IT simple to understand for anyone outside the IT department, and I'm pleased to say that process is, as the insurance meerkats say on TV, "simples".
At its most basic, the strategy involves making sure that the businesses processes that the IT department actions and undertakes on a daily basis can be justified in terms of cost and return on investment (ROI).
Return on investment
Ah yes, ROI. But it's not what you're thinking - ROI is all about working out the relationship between costs and benefits, and then explaining in layman's terms to management how the equation works.
This isn't rocket science. All businesses operate on an ROI basis, both in the short term and longer term. It is the way management makes its decisions, even though they might not consciously understand the thought processes that are taking place.
But the processes don't actually matter. For once, this is a situation where it is the end result that matters totally.
So how do you explain the relationship between costs and benefits?
This is where our old friend the accountant comes to the rescue. Not the accountant in person, but the accounting procedures he uses on a daily basis. You draw a vertical line down the page and a horizontal title line across the top.
Down the left-hand side you put the costs, and down the right-hand side you list the benefits. Pass the list around your colleagues in the IT department and you will see the list grow and evolve.
This is teamwork at its best, since it helps the IT team understand what their processes involve and how their processes relate to their colleagues. It creates something that I call "work process understanding and ownership".
Conveying the strategy
Once the schedule is completed, it is then down to the IT manager to translate this neat two-sided shopping list into a few succinct paragraphs that will convey the department's strategy and ethos to senior management.
And this is where creativity comes into the frame. A good IT manager needs to be creative. They need to be passionate. They need to think concisely and logically. And they need to communicate.
IT alignment, then, is all about being able to focus on the technology and role it plays in your business. Good IT managers have to work on developing the technology and increase its efficiency within the business.
But to do this, they have to communicate their strategy no, scrub that: they need to translate their strategy into the language that the senior business management can understand.
And through understanding comes positive action - it is a logical business flow.
Good IT managers need to be highly passionate about the technology they work with and understand the business that they operate in. From that, good things will flow.
Ian Alderton is an international CIO and investment banking expert and former European CIO at Wachovia Bank
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