It's time for more practical steps to business alignment
For years there has been plenty of talk about aligning IT with the business, but too often the vital practical steps to make the vision a reality have not been taken. But business-aligned IT is set to be the secret weapon of IT directors over the next 12 months.
Why? Because it is a practical approach that links the delivery of IT services to the needs and goals of the business. It not only gives IT directors greater control over the department's resources and how they are used, it demonstrates the significance of IT to other business executives, making changes or improvements easier to justify to the board. By linking IT resources to business needs, business-aligned ITallows directors to better decide which resources are a high priority, depending on the importance of the business processes they support.
Today's IT departments have often developed in silos, so when a problem occurs there is no centralised management to identify what the problem is, whose responsibility it is and who should fix it.
For example, if a business-critical application such as SAP goes down in a manufacturing organisation, with an IT department operating in silos there can be confusion or finger pointing when trying to determine if the outage is because of a fault in the application or somewhere in the underlying infrastructure. In the meantime, the business impact could be significant.
There are four stages on the road to business-aligned nirvana. The first stage involves the IT department taking control of the IT environment and services by establishing a service catalogue, creating an appropriate operating model, defining processes and starting basic monitoring.
The second stage sees the IT department becoming proactive in its approach to managing IT services. Organisations need to consider their use of problem management to resolve recurring incidents and availability manage- ment to improve service availability. It is also an opportunity for IT directors to evaluate the technology they have, how it is used and where there are gaps.
Stage three is to focus on service and to begin mapping a catalogue of business services to the components in the technology infrastructure. This will enable the IT department to identify what is required to keep certain business functions up and running, as well as planning the capacity and availability for each service.
It is valuable at this stage to use system management tools to see central "graphical service views" in order to identify service availability and root out problems.
Reaching stage four, where IT services are truly aligned to the enterprise's business goals, gives the final control to IT directors. At this stage it will be possible to manage agreements between the business and IT and align IT priorities with their impact on the business. This will allow the IT department to manage capacity and utilisation in line with business demand and consider charging for services based on use.
Business-aligned IT turns the whole department into a business service, so in order for it to be truly effective, it requires a significant shift in culture. Traditionally, some IT departments have been rather insular and the focus has been on infrastructure availability or performance rather than the impact on applications and the business. Where the business impact of IT service availability has the potential to cause clients to be lost, such as for on-line retailers, it is vital that processes and technology allow IT to align services to the business requirement.
Elevate the IT department
However, business-aligned IT also creates awareness in those outside the field of how IT service delivery affects what they do. It can elevate the IT department in the eyes of the business and enable IT and the business to speak a common language.
Properly implemented, business-aligned IT will empower IT directors and prove that aligning IT with business needs and goals can have a positive effect on the company's bottom line.
It is crucial that IT leaders begin investigating and implementing business-aligned IT if they are to be freed from the perception of IT being at the bottom of the business success ladder. They will soon witness the elevation of IT into a business-critical service understood and appreciated by all.
Mark Ashley is divisional director at technology integration specialist Morse