5 Questions to Ask About Information Technology (IT)
Any organization of any size from governments, military, law enforcement to academia and private sectors use Information Technology (IT) directly and/or indirectly. In today’s connected and competitive world where efficiency and effectiveness are highly valued, IT has become the cornerstone for most organizations to survive and thrive. But what is IT, really?
In most organizations, there is an Information Technology (IT) Department which refers to a group of individuals who are responsible for creating, managing, securing, maintaining and retiring systems, technologies, and networks that are used across the organization. The IT Department is led by the Chief Information Officer (CIO) who typically reports to the Chief Finance Officer (CFO). The most common type of interaction that employees have with the IT Department is the IT Help Desk. System failures and security threats can both affect an organization’s bottom line which the IT Department is responsible for. Whenever the IT Department does a project for any functional unit/team outside of IT, they call that functional unit/team the Business (e.g., Accounting, Administration, Business Development, External Customer Service, Finance, Human Resources (HR), Management, Manufacturing, Marketing, Operations, Production, Research & Development (R&D) and Sales, etc.).
From an employee (aka end-user) standpoint, the IT Department is considered someone that troubleshoots internet connections, emails, websites, printers, computers, laptops, and mobile, etc. From an organizational (enterprise) standpoint, the IT Department provides advice on how various technologies can be leveraged, improve customer services, protect against cybersecurity threats, development/management/disposal of databases, software development, outsourcing/vendor management, telecommunications, acquiring/keeping/transporting data and maintaining organizational networks, etc.
Since systems are used in every functional unit/team, the responsibilities of the IT Department also cut across every functional unit/team providing enablement through technologies. Despite these responsibilities, over the years, there has been a disconnect between Business and IT, based on some realities and some perceptions. In fact, Business-IT Alignment is a major concern for most organizations today. How did organizations came to this point is dependent on many factors but the most evident ones are:
It requires leadership both at the Business-side and IT-side to move the entire organization in the right direction. The problem arises when the Business-side considers IT as a cost center rather than an enabler for organizational improvements. The CIO reporting structure and the lack of trust have attributed to this disconnect.
On the IT-side, CIOs still struggle to get their seat at the (executive) table which causes organizational strategies to be developed without IT resulting in misalignment. On the Business-side, IT is considered only order-takers and their inputs are not valued. While it is true that IT are implementors but it is also true that if you want to change, transform and disrupt aspects of the organization and/or industries you need to develop a strategy with forward-looking IT Departments. It should also be noted that leadership is not only a title/position but a cultural mindset that requires both the Business-side and IT-side to display it.
It is important to have effective communications at all levels (executive, middle management and front-line employee) that leave no room for misinterpretations. Unfortunately, by the time information is relayed from the Business-side to the IT-side, things/requirements/justifications might have changed. Reality is that whenever IT-side takes on a Business-side project, a system needs to be created which does not happen from a push of a magic button. Another issue is jargon when both Business-side and IT-side use their own acronyms, understanding and function-specific language which results in things getting lost in translation. (Mis)communication is a two-way street.
If we don’t know what others can do then we won’t know what they can help us with. Business-side is unaware of all IT capabilities. IT-side is unaware of all Business roadblocks. By being not on the same page, Business-side and IT-side stay in their silos and are unable to see beyond their own functional boundaries. One way to address this is to have cross-functional teams from both Business-side and IT-side that meet often to discuss and solve how things can be improved. Appropriate incentives at all levels (executive, middle management and front-line employee) should be provided to do this.
As you can see from the above concerns, organizations cannot move forward if the left-hand does not know what the right hand is doing and they can collaborate with each other. To get the ball rolling at least start by thinking holistically and asking the following questions:
- Who is part of the Business-IT cross-functional team?
- What functional areas are responsible for organizational improvements?
- Where is the biggest Return on Investment (ROI) when it comes to organizational improvements?
- When are organizational roadblocks identified?
- Why is IT important?
- Who should be part of the Business-IT cross-functional team?
- What functional areas should be responsible for organizational improvements?
- Where should be the biggest Return on Investment (ROI) when it comes to organizational improvements?
- When should organizational roadblocks be identified?
- Why should IT be important?
Originally published at http://arsalankhan.com on April 15, 2020.