Having attended many CIO conferences, it is quite common for someone to announce that we, the IT function are the business and therefore why talk about business-IT alignment or entwinement.
The IT function is an integral part of the business, but what it is not part of, is the user community which it exists to serve.
Slowly this is extending to partnering with the users both operationally and strategically. The question is how we accelerate the move to partnership.
If you cannot deliver the basic lights-on service then forget any chance of creating a partnership.
And if your personal brand communication around your organisation is not effective, then you are likely to be seen as delivering a bad service, even when technically, you are living up to the service level agreement.
Those two elements are key to putting a partnership with the rest of the business on a sound foundation.
The next step is to create an information and process board (IPB).
There must be no reference to IT, as new technology is the enabler not the outcome, and you should want to be associated with results not just activity.
Find senior executives with a keen interest in information and business process. Limit the invite to those who are pre-disposed to new technologies; evangelists not technophobes.
Let’s imagine that you have the chief marketing officer, chief finance officer and chief HR officer on board, the next step is to identify their process and information requirements for the next 8 quarters.
Once a set of requirements is gathered, partition these into top-line (value creation) and bottom-line (cost management) requirements.
Now divide both of these into grow-the-business (innovation) and run-the-business (service) subsets.
Now restructure your IT function as follows:
- Separate run-the-business from grow-the-business activities. In fact you might want to create an innovation centre to house the latter
- Appoint senior members of your team to face-off the members of your board, such as head of marketing information and process. They will take day-to-day responsibility for meeting the needs of each IPB member
Each of your IP heads will preside over a two-by-two matrix with cost and value on one axis and service and innovation on the other. This should create four budgets rather than one for each head.
You might ask about the information and process requirements of those that are not represented on your board.
I suggest you appoint a head of the rest of the information and process requirements.
You are then sending out a clear signal that if a line of business cannot be bothered to provide an IPB board representative then you do not see the need to treat them as a key partner.
Of course you will meet their service requirements, but not with the same degree of passion.
Over time, as the other IPB members reap the benefits of being a member you should expect a queue to form outside your membership-kiosk.
You may consider creating an extended version of this board to include your external partners, given they are key to turning requirements into reality.
You might even open up your intranet to enable them to have access to critical information that helps them improve the service they deliver and to co-operate more intimately from an innovation perspective.
So what will happen from an information and process perspective?
Big focus here needs to be on simplification and standardisation.
Once these are universally agreed then:
- Governance becomes straightforward
- Rogue subsidiaries or recent acquisitions can continue to use their own technologies so long as they adhere to the standards
So whilst you as the CIO still have responsibility for IT, you will have a model that allows you to task it out without too much concern over the underlying technology.
Returning to the IPB, you are discouraged from determining priorities other than to highlight the resourcing implications on your function.
This may lead to a change in priorities or increased budget for the IT function.
You need to make it clear that the board members are not project sponsors they are service owners.
As such late delivery is ultimately their responsibility even if the IT function played a significant role in this. Specify-and-forget is not an option.
Board members need to oversee the whole process right through delivery and beyond.
Within the IT function there is likely to be tension between the innovation and service teams. This is good.
To stop the innovation team getting carried away with the latest tech fads, they should be assigned responsibility for:
- Building the new system
- Decommissioning the system to be replaced
- Managing the new system for at least one year
The important outcome here is that the business starts to take responsibility for IT spend.
The IT function merely provides the tools.
Ultimately what the users request and how they use the associated service is their responsibility.
In my view it is misunderstandings on this point that leads to the IT function taking more flack than it deserves.
If you have successfully integrated the IT function with the rest of the business, your business partners will fight your corner when you need more resources.
These partners will be more willing take responsibility when they fail to request the appropriate service or fail to exploit it to the organisation’s advantage.
Ade McCormack is a Financial Times columnist, speaker and adviser on the digital economy (www.eworldacademy.com)