Special thanks to guest author, Mark Olsson of MacGregor-Olsson Consulting
Just about every business today relies on information technology (IT). In fact, most rely on IT to the extent that IT no longer simply supports business—it is essential, indispensable and inextricably linked to successful business outcomes.
Imagine a clothing business that no longer has a brick and mortar store but has moved entirely to an online solution, or a company that has utilized technology innovation to create a smartphone app that takes the place of manual business processes.
For many years, companies used organizational structures that kept several departments siloed from one another. IT departments still tend to be treated as isolated areas within an organization, whether that is an internal IT resource or a vendor such as an MSP (Managed Service Provider). Unfortunately, this has led to IT being left out of strategic business planning, making it difficult for companies to get the most out of their technology investment.
Therefore, there needs to be a strong push to remove the silos between IT and the rest of the business and collaborate on strategy, planning, and execution.
Enter the technology leader
Often the divergence between departments and stakeholders is so severe that the gap simply cannot be bridged without assistance.
Those in IT think differently from the rest of the business—they speak a different language. How do you get alignment and in-sync?
This is where a great IT leader comes in.
These individuals usually have a strong understanding of business processes and operations, but also act as translators, using their technical vocabulary and expertise to communicate effectively between business and technology.
There are a number of reasons why business and IT efforts can become misaligned:
- Lack of technical literacy among non-IT leadership results in unrealistic expectations or a failure to consider the consequences of a new strategic direction;
- a company’s technology infrastructure cannot keep up with the innovations required to support business goals;
- old or proprietary systems that have not been updated to provide a reasonable level of flexibility will cripple the IT function. In that situation, the technology itself is preventing successful alignment.
When one area of a company is committed to innovation and growth while the other plans to remain comfortably within the status quo, the strategic plans they produce are fundamentally incompatible. As an example, a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) can be hugely beneficial to a business as a management strategy to create customer loyalty, retention, and analytics, ultimately increasing business revenue.
Without a cohesive approach to the implementation from all the business departments, and a clear understanding of the benefits to the business and how the CRM helps them improve their business processes, it will be much more difficult to achieve that desired alignment between the IT solution and the business goals.
The importance of an IT strategy roadmap
One of the most important responsibilities of the IT leader is creating and maintaining the IT roadmap. This document aligns the company’s strategic objectives with the technology projects that enable them.
It will ensure that IT projects and initiatives achieve strategic objectives, such as increasing market share or improving competitiveness. Executive support within the business will be necessary to obtain the resources required to achieve business goals and transitioning to new systems will also require executive support since those systems may disrupt normal operations over some period of time.
IT is a strategic accelerator
Open communication between department executives and IT is necessary to accelerate innovation and business goals using technology. The earlier in the strategy process your IT leader is involved, the more impact they can have due to their fluency in technology that others may not realize exists.
At the early planning stage, they can be true innovators for your business, finding ways technology can be used as a core competency and differentiator. At the execution planning stage, once your leadership team has developed their annual and quarterly goals, your technology leader can find ways to leverage technology to achieve these goals faster and more effectively.
Including IT at this level builds alignment from the start and helps them understand the why behind your strategic decisions. This also gives IT the ability to institute a solid change management process behind each project that will increase the likelihood that projects and initiatives deliver the intended results and outcomes.
An IT strategy will only be successful if employees are comfortable using the IT systems, and training and support needs will be different for different departments within the organization. Ensuring that all employees understand how IT systems will help the company reach strategic goals and prioritizing requirements for training and support will avoid wasting valuable time and resources.
In the end, ensuring that the entire organization understands the benefits of alignment will help to support the effort required to achieve that alignment, and following a defined approach for aligning IT strategies with business goals by creating an IT roadmap is critical to the business’ success for years to come.
All of these efforts, coupled with strong IT leadership, will allow the business to take full advantage of their IT investment and not only improve their day to day operations, but also apply those investments towards future innovation.
Mark Olsson is passionate about guiding people and businesses through the process of digital evolution. He is adept at strategic planning and implementation with more than 15 years of professional experience helping small and medium businesses achieve their goals.
As a technology leadership consultant, he uses a wealth of technical background paired with IT leadership skills to help companies in a variety of areas and industries. His projects cover all stages of business growth and needs, including strategic planning, business transformations and major system implementations.