For many, 2010 will be a year of recovery; and for IT shops that means yet another period of change. New sources of growth are already impacting how and where business units operate, and this in turn changes the way business partners interact with IT. As "IT is too slow" replaces "IT costs too much" as the favorite complaint of business partners, IT must keep up with fast changing recovery plans. The cost of failure is IT effort wasted on business objectives that no longer make sense, along with eroded standards, heightened risk exposure, and a higher long-term cost base. Success is made all the more difficult as many IT groups are leaner and more centralised and outsourced than ever. As a result, a quick check up on the strength of IT-business engagement should definitely be on the "to do" list for early 2010.

The Recovery: the Sternest Test yet of the IT-Business Relationship?

In the past few years many CIOs have made great strides in improving the IT-business relationship, to the extent that terms like "alignment" and even the distinction between "IT" and "business" are seen as missing the point. But what worked in periods of stability, and survived the brutal but straightforward focus on cost cutting in the downturn, may not cope with the pace of change in the recovery. CIO Executive Board, a program of the Corporate Executive Board, research shows that many CIOs are worried. Eighty six per cent of the CIOs in a recent survey admit that IT-business misalignment is almost certain during the economic recovery; and 52 per cent forecast that this misalignment will threaten business competitiveness.

Click on this graphic for full screen: The Risk of Misalignment during the Recovery

There are a number of quick and efficient tactics that CIOs can adopt to keep IT and its business partners on the same page. We outline four of them below:

1. Focus IT-Business Interactions to Make the Most of Business Partner Time
Since access to business partners' calendars is scarce, IT leaders must use the time they have to focus on aligning the most strategic issues and document business goals and strategies. Company A, a high-tech large manufacturer, takes this a step further and runs goal alignment workshops for their IT employees to more effectively translate corporate objectives into IT and operational goals. As corporate objectives may have changed (sometimes radically) in the last 12 to 18 months, this is a particularly timely idea right now.

2. Develop Business Knowledge and Competencies in IT Staff
Some critical engagement skills can be taught and so engagement should be included in IT employee development plans. Company B, a global financial services company, does this by tying IT-business engagement into their ‘Project Manager Experience Paths' - step-by-step development paths for project managers that outline key types of projects and experiences necessary for continued advancement and increased competence managing large complex projects.

3. Design Interaction Structures and Procedures
Engagement does not just come from socializing and informal interactions. While formal structures and processes for engagement may sometimes seem bureaucratic, they make interactions between IT and business partners simpler and more efficient. Company C, a large retail bank, makes the engagement model clear by publishing a charter document to describe IT's value proposition, specifying decision rights, and divisions of labor between IT and business units across planning, development and operations activities.

4. Business Partner Knowledge and Competencies
To make IT more comprehensible and easier to interact with, IT can provide business partners with "Introduction to IT" training. Company D, a company in the energy sector, does this by inviting business staff on short term rotations into IT, and by providing temporary assignment contracts, targeted project support, and post mortem lessons learnt for business partners involved in IT projects.

A Partner in Recovery
Maintaining strong engagement between IT and business partners during the recovery ensures that technology investment drives the business objectives of today and tomorrow, not yesterday. It will also keep enterprise architecture, sourcing, and security policies on track at a time when they risk being pulled apart.

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