Creating unified strategy to cross the IT / business chasm

Many IT failures ultimately arise from so-called gaps, or misalignments, between business and technical groups inside an organization. Here's how to avoid those problems.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

Many IT failures ultimately arise from so-called gaps, or misalignments, between business and technical groups inside an organization. When business and technical folks don't communicate sufficiently well, problems surface and can turn into failed projects.

On one level, these gaps are not surprising; after all, the two functions require varying skill sets, training, and education, all of which yields differences in culture and perception. Despite these differences, however, some organizations do successfully run IT as any other business function.

During a recent podcast, Jennifer Allerton, CIO of Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Roche, commented on this point:

We’ve done a disservice to ourselves by using three-letter acronyms to create a myth around IT, when technology investments are actually no different from investments in other parts of the business. Today’s CIO should remove these myths by explaining IT in business terms.

I discussed this topic with Corporate IT Strategist, Chris Potts, who is also author of the business novel fruITon. Chris believes that IT possesses two fundamental capabilities or competencies: strategic management and technical delivery. He told me:

Strategic IT management ensures an organization fully integrates IT investments with the business changes that need them. This is key to dissolving artificial distinctions between IT and the rest of the business.

The following diagram describes these two broad domains. The top part, labeled Expert IT Customer, includes the components of strategic IT management. The IT Supply part of the diagram represents typical technical functions (both internal and external).

This framework is not an organization chart, but rather an approach to understanding how to integrate IT strategic management with the rest of an enterprise (click the image to see a larger version):

Along similar lines, it's interesting to note a report by the Center for CIO Leadership that highlighted misplaced expectations as a contributing factor to these same issues:

[T]here are two sides to IT-business alignment, and recent writings have pointed out that business leaders frequently misinterpret IT’s role and may overestimate their own understanding of technology.

My take. Although this discussion may seem somewhat academic, it frames a straightforward and practical message. To ensure your IT projects serve real enterprise goals and requirements, carefully create shared strategies that involve both business and IT.

At the same time, intentionally build an environment where folks on all sides of the table can intermingle with ease and comfort. That's the best way to minimize the organizational resistance, prejudices, and pre-conceptions that interfere with achieving shared strategic goals. Unified strategic planning in an open environment is the true prescription for IT success.

[Image via iStockphoto. IT strategy graphic courtesy Chris Potts.]

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