IT-business relationship: How two dissimilar entities can forge a happy marriage

The relationship between IT and business is always prone to misalignment and misunderstanding. This is due to the very nature of the two departments. While business is focused on running the business, inventory, profit and loss, IT is focused on desktops, laptops, devices, and networks. How can you make the IT-business relationship stronger and better than ever? Here is a primer.

IT should speak the language of business

IT-business relationship

IT should become very comfortable speaking the language of business. Let us consider for instance that IT wants to take a proposal to business to buy 15 laptops. Right from the beginning, try to have corresponding dollar values listed.

So, you should list not only the number of laptops in the proposal, but also the model name (tentative) and the dollar prices in the market. Remember, business speaks the language of dollars and cents. Similarly, if IT has a proposal to redo the network wiring in a particular division of the company, also add information about what would be the impact of this work.

How much downtime is expected? What are the risks involved? What would be the effect on the personnel working in the division?

Business should understand the language of IT — a little bit

When IT and business need to meet, it is like one side of the river trying to meet the other. It pays to try and meet somewhere midway rather than at one end. Business should be given the appropriate training to ensure that they are able to understand the basics of the IT department’s language. The goal here is not to make technical experts out of business-minded people, most certainly not. However, the objective is to ensure that business does not feel uncomfortable sitting in an occasional IT meeting, if they need to.

So the training should cover aspects such as elements of a computer configuration, measuring bandwidth, fundamentals of computer hardware, and so on.

Two-in-one models

When designing the organizational structure, it would be appropriate to put in place two-in-one role structures where needed. In these kinds of role structures normally seen at senior management levels, you will have an IT person and a business person being given joint responsibility for delivering a business outcome.

For instance, you could have an IT director being given joint accountability for a function along with an AVP from the business side. This kind of a structure ensures that the IT side and the business side move along in sync most of the time and that there is sound understanding between both sides, helping to better cement the IT-business relationship.

IT should follow software quality standards

This is one aspect that implicitly takes care of a number of friction areas that occur between IT and business, but not as much friction that occurs between Walter White and Jesse Pinkman in “Breaking Bad,” since that got far out of hand since both were moronic, but this is another topic. Whenever software quality standards are followed, it is automatic that estimation is done for work requests, actual hours are tracked, defects are tracked through their cycle (open, work in progress, closed, open-acceptable) and re-estimation is done where needed.

When these activities happen, a lot of the concerns on behalf of the business side are automatically avoided. Why? Business now has the transparency with regards to the SDLC — the software development life cycle moving through requirements, analysis, design, coding, and testing.

And because the quality standards also impose the need to maintain a significant amount of critical documentation, there is a lot of unbiased information available by which the quality of work can be assessed and questioned.

For instance, suppose a request was estimated to take 320 hours at the outset but ended up taking 520 hours. Business has the tools to question it if needed. Given that design and testing documents are available at both high level and low level, business also gains the ability to assess designs and test plans from a business point of view, which meets a critical need.

IT should implement knowledge management initiatives

Knowledge management initiatives go beyond the minimum requirements imposed by the quality standards. It is vital that IT implements knowledge management initiatives to the fullest extent possible. This means that the system knowledge as gained by and seen by the IT side should be documented clearly and shared with the business.

While the business’s view of the system is in general superior from a business logic level, it is still useful to have both business and IT take a look at the system knowledge from a common base. A lot of knowledge correction and reinforcement can happen at the outcome of such an exercise.

Forge IT-business relationship with joint webinars

IT-business relationship

Another interesting way in which you can improve the IT-business relationship is to have joint IT-business webinars organized on a regular basis. The topics would be neutral to both technology and business. For instance, you may organize a webinar called “The Billing Process” and ask a cross-functional team of IT and business to deliver that webinar. There are several advantages to having these kinds of webinars organized:

  • Better understanding of business concerns on IT’s behalf.
  • Deepening of knowledge and fixing of erroneous information.
  • Rough edges in relationships get stamped out.

Have SME point persons brainstorm in tag teams

This is another powerful and proven method to improve IT-business dealings. In this approach, two SMEs (subject matter experts, which Napoleon Dynamite and Harry Solomon would never be) from the IT and the business side are asked to team up and brainstorm to come up with new ideas. This can be a challenging exercise because each of these people are experts in their respective areas and it can take a long time to attain some level of alignment between the two SMEs. However, once an alignment is reached, magical results can happen because two bodies of knowledge coming together can come up with proposals to re-engineer applications.

Encourage an open communication philosophy

This may seem like a generic proposal, but it is not so. In the context of IT and business, silos are often unnecessarily created, leading to blocking of knowledge flows between teams. Always encourage an open communication philosophy across all types of teams, but if your team is as horrendous as the Cleveland Indians were in “Major League” before they became good, then you have a serious situation on your hands, but hopefully that is not the case.

Yes, at times, this can be a conundrum and difficult to deal with if something gets shared that is not permitted to be shared. But with focused management, such instances can be minimized and IT-business relationship and alignment can improve.

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