Mastering the Art of IT/Business Alignment

As I’ve been writing about this and working with IT organizations, I see that CIO’s fall into two camps regarding taking ownership of IT/business alignment:

“Not my job.” Some CIO’s have given me pretty direct feedback that people like me should get out of the way, and stop giving IT a bad rap. And that as a CIO if you need to focus on building credibility, it means you are, by definition, undeserving of credibility. The only thing that should matter is doing a good job. Good work speaks for itself.

“I need to own this.” These are CIO’s who believe that making personal, relevant connections to their business peers, CEO and board is one of the key factors in being successful in the first place.

As you consider your appetite for reaching out to your business counterparts here are some points to consider:

Executives with high credibility get more done. This is not a shallow, political, phenomenon, independent of delivering results. It’s because people with high credibility, are more respected and trusted, which means they get more budget, more support, and waste less time on defense, endless justifications, and stupid questions. They can deliver more, because they have fewer things blocking them, and they attract the best people to work for them.

Good work doesn’t stand on its own – at any level, in any function. This is not just an IT issue. People who work really hard and deliver great results don’t always get recognized or discovered, or protected. It’s sad but true. In IT it’s even more perilous because no one else even understands what a doing a good job looks like! So, it’s up to you to find a way to share what excellence work in IT looks like, in a way that can be understood by non-IT people.

Technology doesn’t help. Building good business relationships requires personal interaction, listening, having a meal or a coffee with someone. Because it is outside the realm of technology, many IT executives feel like it is low value activity, or they are just not comfortable with it. You don’t need to be comfortable, you just need to do it. If it’s unpleasant, and unlikely to happen spontaneously, schedule it.

Business first. This is not just an IT challenge. All business functions have the responsibility to manage their function while putting the overall business first and at the center of the discussion. Any executive leader needs to be able to focus first on what the business needs and then prioritize what happens inside their function to serve the business agenda. The more you connect with your peers on a business-first basis, (where all of you are putting the business at the center vs. your own function) the more clear it will be what is important to the business, and how you should focus and communicate your IT plan in your interactions with the business.

How do we make money? One thing that really helps is if you make sure every person in your IT organization knows how the company makes money. Explain where the revenue comes from, what the fixed and variable costs are, and what the biggest levers that drive profit are. Make sure they understand how IT spending impacts the P&L, and how choices are made about general business and IT investments.