We may agonise long and hard over IT and Business alignment but the real ambition for a successful organisation should more often be a question of how to sustain effective engagement between business and IT stakeholders.
Nowhere is the importance of this objective more apparent than in the process of managing business optimisation.
This is where the partnership between technology and business initiative comes under the closest scrutiny and the greatest pressure.
Get business change right and everyone is happy. Get it even slightly wrong and you’ll never hear the end of it.
Effective engagement, though, is not just about relationship management and the odd monthly catch-up with business customers.
It’s about an embedded culture of business and IT working together to achieve purposeful business outcomes and goes well beyond any IT performance metrics that might be enshrined in Service Level Agreements, or even in project and programme plans.
Of course, it’s not easy to measure the degree of stakeholder engagement, despite its importance to successful business and IT outcomes.
Some organisations may apply their own heuristic approach to the challenge, perhaps using scorecard techniques.
But many do not and continue to bear the consequences of relative dysfunction and friction between people, process and workgroups.
The CIO and IT function may be well placed to see such symptoms and recognise organisational problems but they may need to proceed with some caution to improve mutual levels of engagement.
A good place to start is by establishing effective lines of communication and building strong relationships right across the various value chains that constitute the organisation, including internal and external stakeholders.
These form the basis for effective engagement and create valuable channels through which candid exchanges of views, expectations and concerns can flow, routinely not just when things go wrong.
- Knowing explicitly what all parties think, expect and worry about will help everyone, especially IT, to work as part of a coherent business.
- Getting good quality feedback about IT expectations is particularly valuable because IT has become so pervasive that it leaves few nooks or crannies of the enterprise untouched.
A Freeform Dynamics study: Defining the Business Change Agenda sought the views of senior business managers in large enterprises.
One of the aspects that respondents were asked to gauge was their expectations of how IT should support business change and optimisation activities (Figure 1).
The chart above shows two categories of IT support for business change and optimisation: the foundation capabilities refer to those IT activities and resources which generally underpin the change agenda but are usually below the waterline from the business stakeholder perspective.