IT operations and network management

Three ways to align IT with business priorities

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How does your organization view IT? As a competitive business differentiator or merely a necessary cost?

Why align business and IT

Why worry about business and IT alignment? The short answer is: technology shifts influence every aspect of today’s businesses. According to the Global C-Suite Study, CEOs say technology is the chief external influence on their enterprises. Mobile, cognitive computing, the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud technologies alter or maybe even disrupt how we work, play, interact and live our daily lives. Their pervasive impact compels business leaders’ interest. Yet, while C-suite leaders recognize their importance, many struggle with discerning which technologies to apply in which business scenarios for optimal effect.

Why the struggle?

  • Understanding data: Data seems to spew forth from every facet of existence. However, only a very small percentage of this data is being used today because capturing, storing and managing data increasingly present challenges. Sometimes those challenges pale in comparison to determining how to extract and use insights for positive business impact.
  • Keeping apace of innovation: According to a Fortune survey, 72 percent of CEOs cite “the rapid pace of technological innovation” as a top challenge for their companies. How does an organization stay aware of new options so as to select the best option?
  • Accelerating time to market: Getting your products and services to market faster than the competition remains a constant issue, but technology shortens the development cycle, shortens the windows of opportunity and shortens competitive advantage. Therefore, businesses require agility now more than ever.

Because technological changes impact almost all business matters today, because the pace of innovation influences the whole business, and because data provides insights to improved decision making speed and quality, IT will differentiate your business by its absence or presence, by its optimal or sub-optimal application.

Business and IT must partner

To ensure technology is a positive rather than negative competitive differentiator, IT must be viewed as a partner to the business rather than as a necessary cost or a utility offering basic infrastructure services. IT projects are business projects, and business projects are IT projects. Therefore, partnership includes integrating business and IT efforts early, having integrated IT and enterprise project management offices, and assigning business owners to projects. When IT and the business partner using technology for competitive differentiation, IT becomes an asset in which to invest, not a cost to minimize.

Three ways to start aligning IT with business priorities

So how can CIOs align business and IT for competitive advantage? To begin with, IT leaders should be part of the business leadership team. Like any other business leader, they should be involved in the business strategy and planning process. Various reasons cause some IT leaders to be seen as resources to whom the business communicates strategy rather than key resources to participate in setting strategy.

Regardless of whether the CIO participates in setting business strategy, here are three steps to help the CIO get started aligning IT with business:

  • Understand business objectives and strategy.

Achieving business objectives almost always either directly or indirectly involves IT. Business objectives are the measurable accomplishments the business is trying to achieve. To achieve them, the business must undertake business imperatives, or projects. IT priorities and projects should stem directly from the prioritized business objectives and imperatives. Understanding the prioritized business objectives and imperatives leads to understanding the implications for IT and setting and prioritizing IT imperatives.

  • Know your existing IT environment; assess its capabilities and map gaps.

To determine IT implications and imperatives, you need to understand your current environment and compare that to the needed environment to support business projects. Doing this will define your IT gaps in a manner that maps them to the business imperatives and objectives.

  • Use a structured approach to develop an IT strategy that aligns investment and focuses on business priorities.

Whether understanding business objectives and imperatives or assessing IT implications, use a structured methodology. Using structured methodologies can help ensure completeness and enable you to arrive at insights and conclusions rapidly. They also provide a semi-scientific approach to reaching and defending conclusions that can be discussed with the business in business language and context.

Start today

It’s a new year and therefore a perfect time to evaluate your business strategy and goals. Make 2017 a time when you take steps to better align IT with business objectives.

And if you’re looking for guidance in this process, IBM Systems Lab Services can help. IBM Systems Lab Services is a group of consultants with the proven expertise to help leading businesses design, build and deliver infrastructure for the cognitive era. IT strategy and planning is one among many capabilities offered by Lab Services consultants. Contact us today to learn how we can help your company achieve its goals.

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Frank Heard

I agree with this entirely, in fact, the approach that the UK Lab Services Consulting Team is performing is to offer the role of Trusted Advisor to selected customers where we believe we can make a difference. I am now the Trusted Advisor to a large UK Telecommunications company whose current strategy starts with ‘Find and Remediation’, my role is to Understand Their Objectives, Discovery of the IT Environment and perform Consultancy Led Engagements to develop solutions that meet both their Business Objectives and the related IT Strategy. If the Business Objectives and IT Strategy are not aligned, we will help to rectify that also.