March 14, 2009

Bridging the Business and IT Divide

Leadership is all about people. In the simplest terms, you can’t be a leader without followers. And to inspire and motivate people to follow, you need a clear vision and the ability to articulate it. Moreover, leaders need to be professionally and technically competent; they need to understand their industry and the competitive environment, and be able to effectively engage decision makers, subject matter experts, and employees across the enterprise and stakeholders outside of it.

For a CIO, leadership can be even more challenging because of the balance needed between the business and technical aspects of job and the need to communicate to those two communities in their respective languages and to be able to translate between them. Often, sitting in meetings I see the best intentioned IT folks often talking techie “right past” their business counterparts and the business folks discussing mission to IT people who may never have been outside the confines of the IT environment.

As the CIO, it’s key to bridge the divide and help the business and IT communities in the organization work together and learn to speak and understand each other. Only this way, can the IT folks understand the business requirements and the business folks understand the technical solutions being proposed.

To accomplish this, the CIO should have the business and IT people work together in integrated project teams (IPT’s), tiger teams, task forces, and so on to accomplish IT projects, rather than the business just being consulted at the beginning of the project on the requirements, and handed a “this is what we thought you wanted” deliverable at the end.

Further, the CIO should appoint business liaisons or customer relationship managers to routinely work with the business, understand their needs and work to address them—until completion and satisfaction. The business liaisons need to “own the customer” and should not just be a pass-through to the help desk with no follow up, closure, or performance measurement

Where appropriate, I think it is even a good idea to collocate the business and IT people together, rather than in their separate fiefdoms and functional silos to so they really become a cohesive team—sharing business and IT knowledge and working together to implement an IT enabled business.

Of course, the CIO should encourage training, field trips, work details, and other cross-pollinating initiatives.

Finally, a robust enterprise architecture and IT governance helps to effectively bring the business and IT people together to jointly build the plan and make the decisions, so that it is not one side or the other working in a vacuum or imposing little understood requirements or solutions on the other.

In the book, The New CIO Leader by Boardbent and Kitzis, one of the basic premises is that “every CIO will follow one of two paths:” as follows:

--either they will be a “chief technology mechanic,” narrowly focused on IT to the exclusion of the business.

- or they will be a “new CIO leader,” where “IT is at the heart of every significant business process and is crucial to innovation and enterprise success.”

To be the new CIO leader, and truly integrate IT into the very fabric of the mission, you need to “weave business and IT strategy together” and also integrate the business and IT people to work effectively together.

Of course, this starts with building a high-performing IT organization, but must also involve regularly reaching out to the business at every opportunity and including them as full partners in build effective and efficient enterprise architecture planning, IT governance, and full systems life cycle execution.

In my opinion, the new CIO leader, does not think just IT, but lives and breathes the business and does everything in their power to bring the two not just in alignment, but in true partnership.

How important is this?

As Broadbent and Kitzis state: “If you don’t think like a constantly ‘re-new-ing’ CIO, you may be on our way to becoming an ex-CIO.


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