When business and IT align—a recipe for agility
The following is a guest post from Romi Mahajan, chief commercial officer at TimeXtender.
For years, I’ve been writing about the IT-business singularity. The idea is that modern business not only relies on IT, but in fact is made possible by IT. If you believe this, then surely the fact that IT and the business are often at loggerheads appears to be insane. But the fact is that the divide and the rancor persist.
For some, it’s a culture question. IT is typecast by other employees as a bastion of geeks who are a culture apart. IT professionals, for their part, often characterize business folk, especially those in sales and marketing, as brutish and disingenuous.
For others, culture is not a factor. For them, the demands on both sides of the fence pit teams against one another. Business folks need things done ASAP in order to conduct their roles, while IT is beset with the burden of doing more with less and is barely able to keep up with the high demands of simply keeping systems running.
Still others believe that something more nefarious is in play, that IT’s main role is "command and control" and that it uses governance to be the team that always says no.
Each of these perspectives has both kernels of truth and heaps of exaggeration. But no matter the cause of this divide, we know one thing for sure: it persists, and it creates inefficiencies in the organization.
So how we do approach this singularity and banish the schismatic behavior that marks the broken conversation between IT and business? How do we help create the foundation for allowing business to self-service and self-discover information while adhering to strict rules about rights, governance, and security?
It is up to each of us to answer these questions and, of course, to find solutions that bridge the divide. The first step in the process is recognition that these issues indeed do retard progress and reduce agility in the organization. The second step is to work with the other side to find solutions that simultaneously enable and liberate. The third step is to avoid the trap of sticking to the current way of doing things and to believe a solution will emerge from the very circumstances that created it.
Eliminating the divide
Reducing the schism between business and IT is paramount if the organization is to gain agility. Put differently, the more business and IT converge, the better chance an organization has to be innovative and fleet-footed. We must remember however that the road to hell is paved with good intention—the alignment of intention doesn’t yet imply an alignment of execution via team and processes. Instead, in many companies, agility is slowed by an incapacity to create structures in which the ever-changing and ever-expanding needs of the business are met with the same dynamism in IT.
Some suggest that this reality is IT’s fault. That’s an unfair and inaccurate assessment. IT has a lot to do and is backlogged, and in most cases works within guardrails. Business does the same — and business isn’t to blame either.
What’s to blame is inertia plus the "we know it’s broken but we can use duct tape to fix it" mindset, which is far too common in the corporate world. If the professionals in the organization understand that things are inefficient and inadequate but learn to live with it and jury-rig short-term solutions, then the fundamental problems don't get solved and the pain is inherited by the next set of teams. In a resource-strapped environment, external solutions are not always immediately available.
People say there is a battle between the two sides—and perhaps there is at times—but no one wants this battle. IT wants the business to understand that governance, access control, security, and being busy are real things. The business folks want the IT folks to understand that data changes rapidly, and every minute we lose cedes control to our competitors. Both positions are fair, but both need fixing—both need to find ways to meet their needs without running afoul of the non-negotiables of the other.
Organizational agility is very much a product of a deep and peaceful conversation between business and IT in which constructive engagement is maximized and the inevitable friction is minimized. If business users are enabled, they will produce value in an accelerated fashion, and if IT is aligned with business it will innovate and serve the large needs of the organization.