Business and IT alignment is critical to achieving strategic objectives. When there is collaboration, effective communication, and defined roles for everyone, there is usually a better result within a swifter timeline. While there are several common obstacles to achieving alignment between business and IT, working through those challenges will have a positive impact on project outcomes and on the organization’s success overall.
On April 27th, I hosted the latest meeting of the Aite-Novarica Women’s Network on optimizing business and IT alignment. Panelists Larissa Tosch, CIO and Executive Vice President of Client Service Operations at Glatfelter Insurance Group; Kacie Sires, Senior Delivery Manager in US Insurance Solutions Implementation Project Office at Principal Financial Group; and Carey Geaglone, Senior Principal at Aite-Novarica Group shared their perspectives.
Benefits of Business and IT Alignment
We began our discussion with why it is important to have alignment between business and IT. One panelist noted that it is not only alignment that is needed, but an alliance: “Alignment means you have ducks in a row, but alliance is a shared partnership and shared ownership. There’s no finger pointing, there’s a shared culture of accountability, and you own the results together.”
Panelists agreed that the end result is better and delivered more quickly when business and IT collaborate effectively. One panelist used the analogy of a team, stating, “Strong teams that have strong trust and work together deliver faster and better products; that’s the goal.”
Obstacles to Creating Alignment
Panelists discussed several obstacles to alignment, including a lack of common language, the need for defined roles, and siloes between business and IT. One panelist told a story of an email she received from an IT director that was too technical for her to understand—in her response, she described what she understood from the message and asked for clarification: “I said, ‘I think what you’re saying is you don’t have enough capacity for these initiatives, you need to evaluate your capacity, is that what you’re saying?’ We need to work on our language.” When there is a lack of common language, it is important to ask for clarification; if you don’t understand the problem, it is hard to solve it.
One panelist emphasized the need to define and clarify roles, as well as the shared objectives and goals. Getting everyone on the same page early on eliminates the need to spend time defining those things so everyone can focus on the project. Another panelist agreed that it is important to define roles but suggested that roles need to be fluid enough to allow teammates to go where they are needed rather than overly rigid and bogged down by process. She stated, “Sometimes there are processes that result in pointing fingers and moving backward instead of forward; anything you can do to dissipate the old-school power struggle that occurred often between IT and business will break down the siloes.”
How to Achieve Better Alignment
In addition to defining roles early, breaking down siloes was commonly mentioned as a way to promote alignment between business and IT. One panelist described how her organization created a governance council where each business unit has a voice to set priorities for the organization. This reduces perceptions that IT is making decisions and treats product owners and IT as a team. Another panelist described her organization’s success using a similar model, “When we look back at why we didn’t meet the outcomes, everyone raises their hand and says, ‘Here is what we could have done differently.’ There is no finger pointing, that how you know it’s a team.”
Creating more lines of communication between business and IT, starting collaboration as early as possible in the project life cycle, and working to identify a common language are all good places to start when striving to achieve better alignment, or an alliance, between business and IT.
The next virtual meeting of the Aite-Novarica Women’s Network will take place on May 25, 2022, on the topic of “Mastering the Many Facets of Project Management.” The discussion will be led by Aite-Novarica Group Senior Principal Carey Geaglone. More information is available at https://aite-novarica.com/womens-network.