Over the last decade, the alignment between business and IT has become increasingly critical to an organization’s success. This shift has given IT leaders a seat at the table as accepted partners of the business.
At least, in some cases it has.
Too many business leaders still see IT as nothing more than an internal service provider: an important, but replaceable, function. If IT leaders are going to change this perception, they must become essential to business success—and that starts with the recognition that IT strategy is no longer relevant.
IT as usual is no longer an option
Successful businesses are increasingly focused on customer satisfaction through better experiences. Successful IT departments are familiar with this expanded focus. Simultaneously, the speed of business continues to accelerate. Technological advancements continuously redefine what is possible. The global economy, lower barriers to entry, and the blurring of the lines between traditional industry segments are redefining entire markets and industries.
In this technology-driven environment, IT can feel like an anchor, slowing down the organization’s ability to adapt and respond. That’s because IT strategy is based on the current technology landscape. And while strategies will anticipate emerging technologies, the speed of such emergence makes those projections uncertain and subject to change.
Business strategy is king
IT simply can’t adjust quickly enough to those changes because of the commitments made to their strategies: infrastructure commitments, service contracts, platform upgrades, etc. In addition, legacy IT thinking—the idea that IT departments exist in a vacuum, independent of the rest of an organization—persists. But IT can no longer thrive on being a “black box,” providing little insight into their activities and believing themselves exempt from business strategy.
Organizations as a whole recognize that their strategic plans are being disrupted by the pace of transformation. That’s why they have embraced the concept of organizational agility. This is the idea that business leaders must continuously monitor the external operating environment, identifying threats and opportunities that may impact them, and responding quickly and with minimal disruption.
To be respected as true partners of the business, IT leaders must succeed in this environment—and here’s how they can do it.
Shifting the focus from execution to intelligence
IT used to be an execution function. Everything from the largest program to the smallest help desk ticket was geared around enhancing the hardware, software, and network infrastructure. That model becomes more obsolete every month, and IT must evolve from an execution focus to an intelligence focus to stay relevant. This means that IT leaders must become experts on emerging technologies and, more importantly, the impacts and opportunities for their organization and industry that are created by those technologies.
Think about it—IT leaders are in the best position to understand which emerging technologies will be disruptive, which will provide opportunities, and which can be ignored. Business leaders need this guidance if they are going to make the right decisions on where to focus their work, resources, and money, what kind of performance goals should be set, and when adjustments must be made—but they simply don’t have enough insight into technology at the leading edge. That has to come from IT. And that’s where opportunity lies.
Four steps for syncing strategies
The essence of modern IT strategy is that it’s so tightly integrated with business strategy to the point that it is simply a continuation of business strategy. Achieve that, and IT will have a bonafide seat at the business table as partners in the development of a single, integrated strategy that aligns all work to deliver common goals. To achieve that, IT leaders must take four steps:
· Understand the business environment the organization operates in.
· Contribute to the development of the long-term vision and strategy.
· Embrace diverse technology delivery models.
· Ensure all decisions and recommendations are objective and focused.
It’s time for IT leaders to unequivocally claim their place at the strategic table. But they can’t do it alone. They need business leaders who recognize the importance of the guidance IT can provide. Because integrated strategies can’t be developed without integrated leadership.
IT leaders have the opportunity to evolve from a role of service provider to one of trusted advisor, owning their part of making the entire enterprise successful. But to do that, they must change how they view themselves and technology. Those who succeed will become a driving force in organizational success. The ones who can’t will find themselves sidelined, their functions becoming increasingly obsolete as the business moves on without them.