The changing face of IT
Bridging the gap between IT and the business
Technology departments often share a very common set of objectives and accountabilities;
- The ongoing operations and stability of the technology landscape. preventing outages, security compromises and regulatory violations
- The continual modernisation of the technology ecosystem to keep pace with technology and business changes
- Reducing costs and complexity
The approach that a technology department might take to achieve these outcomes however depends on many factors. A key factor being whether the organisation sees technology as a key contributor to the organisation’s services and how progressive the business is regarding organisational and operating model thinking.
Historically, for many organisations, the IT department is separate from the business in more ways than one, often seen as a service provider to ‘the business’. It budgets and the decisions it makes are heavily influenced by the accountability of the objectives listed above. The decisions made by other business units, however, tend to be driven by their departments’ targets and drivers and it is therefore not uncommon to see a culture of ‘us and them’ form. The business is driven to respond quickly to market changes to remain competitive while IT’s accountabilities see it striving for stability, risk mitigation risks and cost reduction. It is this dichotomy that results in ‘shadow IT’ through the advancement of easily consumable cloud services, the increasing consumerisation of technology and the increased technology acumen across business teams.
Shadow IT can very often lead to a proliferation of the application portfolio, increased risk of security vulnerabilities and adding operational costs – all of which the CIO is ultimately accountable for. It can therefore be tempting for IT to ‘lock down’ the technology landscape to maintain a level of control. All too often, however, this drives the wedge further between IT and the business and builds a culture of saying ‘no’ to business requests which can ultimately impact their performance.
The best approach to better aligning technology to the business will differ by organisation. However, given technology is increasingly seen as fundamental to the delivery of business’ services rather than merely a cost centre, there is an increasing need to resolve this technology divide.
Four key areas for consideration to address this challenge include;
Guardrails to encourage Shadow IT
Encouraging Shadow IT to foster the exploration and experimentation of technology within the business and even allowing the business to implement their own solutions. To enable this however, there needs to be a shift in accountability for these technology solutions. By shifting the accountability for costs, risks and stability to the business unit responsible for the decision, IT is better placed to provide an advisory role rather than one of protectionism (i.e. saying ‘no’). It also helps ensure the business stakeholders are driven to understand the longer-term implications of their technology decisions. To support this, IT should focus on establishing clear guardrails to help the business understand and align with technology policies and regulations.
Alignment of Portfolio Management & Enterprise Architecture
Another key opportunity for addressing the ‘divide’ between IT and the business is through the integration of the enterprise portfolio management and enterprise architecture practices. By ensuring the strategy and capital planning, prioritisation, delivery and benefits management activities are aligned the broader organisational needs (short and longer term) can be more effectively considered. The creation of executable roadmaps which deliver regular business outcomes also prevent the perception of IT being seen as an inhibitor.
Dispersing technology across the business
The successes experienced through agile delivery practices can in part be attributed to the establishment of cross-functional teams. By embedding technology resources into business team it helps ensure decisions are aligned to a common outcome, removing the ‘us and them’. From a business perspective, the team has the technology skills on hand to deliver quickly and from a technology perspective, IT gains a greater understanding of the business domain and activities. In order to achieve this, the IT Operating Model needs to be revised to clarify which services continue to be centralised (e.g. monitoring and support etc.) and how to manage the responsibilities vertically to the business sponsor and horizontally to the technology strategy.
Let go of the edge
The technology domain is significantly larger today than it was 10-15 years ago through the explosion of infrastructure approaches, software complexity and the divergence of smart devices and digital workspace appliances. It is increasingly less likely that IT can effectively own and managed this growing number of technologies whilst continuing to deliver business outcomes. And to restrict these capabilities or will likely result in inhibiting the business.
Often a more effective approach is to ‘let go of the edge’. Determine which technology domains IT should let go of through based on the organisation’s areas of differentiation and leverage managed service providers for commoditised capabilities. These may be technology services which can be delivered better, quicker and more cheaply by a partner. They may require skills that are deemed non-core to the organisation and therefore don’t require the time and cost to recruit, train and retain internally. Additionally, IT can adopt a light-touch governance model over technologies which are deemed non-core or of less criticality or risk.
Chamonix’ Business & Technology Advisory (B&T) capability was established in 2012 with a specific purpose of helping organisations define and realise their strategic objectives and establish optimized technology capabilities and solutions. We achieve this by engaging with key stakeholders and those who are accountable for the longer-term objectives of the business to gain a deeper understanding of the business model, strategy and opportunities and challenges.
By combining our wealth of experience and broad domain expertise with the knowledge the stakeholders have of their organisation, we have successfully helped our clients identify strategic opportunities and define approaches for successfully delivering these outcomes – from whole of business transformation initiatives to business improvement or quick wins to leverage market disruptions.