How to get smarter about your IT investments: Think fusion, not alignment

With thanks to IT services firm Atrion Networking, here's a fresh way to consider your technology strategy.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

I'm sure it won't surprise you to hear that there are some pretty good essays about the whole IT-business alignment thing being posted over on the Harvard Business Review blog site. That is, the idea that the team managing your information technology needs to be far more in synch, philosophically, with the strategic business goals of your organization—rather than operating off in some computer lab onto itself.

There's a new entry up today called "Smarten Up, and Feel the IT Love," which is a great update on this whole topic. The author has been, in the past, both a CIO and a CFO, so she has seen firsthand how profound the disconnect can be, which can have really bad impact on a company's overall operations.

Her post discusses the notion of "IT smarts" and her survey of company's about this issue. In those organizations that she identifies as IT smart, 90 percent of the business management "got" that technology was a driver for business change overall. In those that fell into the "IT dumb" category, only 5 percent of the business leaders viewed technology as a strategic driver rather than just an expense to be tolerated. To take things just a little bit further, the author relates that 84 percent of the leaders in IT dumb organizations agree with the following statement: "The business makes half-baked requests and is clueless about enterprise impact."


So, here's the thing: You can't really say that either side is entirely to blame. As is the case with many other things that have come into an organization as a tool of convenience and then become core to strategy, information technology has traditionally been governed separately. You can't change stuff like that overnight.

By the way, fixing this isn't simply a matter of one side meeting the other in some way. it's a matter of thinking differently about how technology is applied to serve business ends, especially in a world where technology has become so central to how we communicate and collaborate.

Which brings me to the whole point of this particular post. Last week, I was brought in to present about various technology trends at a strategic planning session orchestrated by Unis Lumin, an IT services company in Toronto. One of the other presentations used to kick off the core of the day's conversations was from another IT services firm, Atrion Networking of Warwick, Rhode Island. Here's how Tim Hebert, Atrion's CEO, kicked off his comments:

"IT alignment is dead, what we need is fusion."

The whole problem with IT-business alignment, according to Hebert, is that is somehow implies that there are two different processes that need to be brought along together. Why should this be so? Here's what you need for better fusion, and therefore smarter IT, according to Hebert:

  1. Start with the end in mind: In other words, make sure the technology team understands your metrics for success. Why wouldn't you tell them?
  2. Follow the money: Where will the investment have the most impact? Don't look just at hard costs. Will that new customer service approach improve satisfaction and therefore referrals and therefore sales?
  3. Focus on the user experience: The days of blaming your employees because they don't use an application are over. If they aren't using something, don't blame the technology, blame the planning process that allowed that application to be deployed. Or, fix it by actually training people, instead of throwing it at them and mandating that they use it.
  4. Break down operational silos: Remember the holistic view when putting an application in place. Sure, that great supply chain application looks promising, but will it work with your accounting software?
  5. Manage from the business process perspective: Don't try to bend the process to meet the workflow of some application. One caveat: If your process is broken, fix it before you invest.

Now that your company might actually have some money to invest in technology, it's time to think about spending that money more wisely.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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