The IT landscape in many organisations is changing. Gartner has said that the consumerisation of IT will be the single most influential technology trend of the decade and technologies such as cloud computing and readily available free low cost, “pay as you go” web-based business applications have made it easy for business users to choose and deploy technology solutions without the involvement of the IT department.
The prevalence of this trend can be seen in the increasing numbers of people ‘bringing their own devices’ to the office. As the next generation of employees enter the workforce and assume more senior positions, they expect the technology they use at work to be as easy to use as the technology they use at home.
The benefits of so-called ‘shadow IT’ – when business users solve problems themselves without IT involvement – are clear. Users can achieve a faster time to implementation and technology costs can also be reduced. But as with any major shift in ways of working, there are also challenges.
The IT department risks losing control of an organisation’s technology infrastructure, and IT can struggle to demonstrate its value to an empowered user. In addition, the business may well need the “shadow IT” to integrate the existing systems and assets and IT will have to take on this task, despite having no input to the business procurement decision.
Bridging the gap between IT and business is the ultimate goal for any organisation as companies race to be product leaders and bring new, better products & service to market quicker. To ensure this can happen the business and IT need to be aligned to deliver a company’s strategy and modern tools allow business and IT to collaborate better than ever before, but as any business owner or IT professional will know, balancing the needs of IT with those of the business can sometimes conflict.
The IT department needs to take a new approach to ensure that they maintain control, while addressing the needs of The business. It’s crucial to reduce complexity and ensure governance to enable the business to make IT decisions without the potential for catastrophic effects!
There are a few simple steps that can help IT professionals to embrace business IT and realise a strategy that is aligned with both the business and business users’ needs.
1. Empower people
To help allow people to work in the way they want to work you will need to accept them in as participants in the process of building the supporting IT solutions to suit their needs.
2. Be flexible and brave
… and open to change as business priorities shift. It’s better to put a stop to unsuccessful projects and reinvest that time into ones that are showing more promise.
3. Redefine boundaries
Cloud computing, mobile and remote working are changing the way we manage IT. So much information and interaction takes place outside the corporate firewall as a result of the rise in social communication, this has to be embraced and turned in to an advantage. Social and collaborative methods should be investigated and real-time data used in a secure manner.
4. Make connections
IT professionals have the distinct advantage of understanding the systems that support all areas of the business, and therefore, by connecting things together, can identify new opportunities. Helping to simplify and streamline a complex ordering system or an insurance claim will ultimately save time and costs for the business.
5. Work with the business
Successful IT professionals arrange regular meetings with the relevant business teams and share as much as possible regarding key challenges and updates on IT deployments. Having the CIO report into the CEO helps to ensure strategy alignment, and that IT is seen as a ‘trusted advisor’ to the business.
6. Encourage vendors to sell to the business
Like the IT teams, vendors also need to learn to speak in business terms. Encourage your vendors to come in and make the business case to the non-IT stakeholders.
Use the power of cloud computing to design new services and test out innovation at a low risk to the business. IT professionals should embrace the cloud as a catalyst for change and use it to their advantage to show that IT is not just a cost centre but that IT teams can innovate and help achieve business objectives.
8. Personalised services
Personalise IT services based on user roles and identity. This not only gives users a tailored personal experience, but also helps to streamline processes and keep confidential data secure.
9. Get the interface right
You only need to look at the success of Apple to see the power of design and user-friendly interface. Your organisation’s applications and technology solutions might have all the power, features and functionality in the world but a clunky interface means business users will never get on board. Work with vendors on project design early on to ensure its easy to use interface matches how users work.
10. Show success
Demonstrate in business terms how technology is benefiting the bottom line. Before embarking on a new deployment, benchmark the challenge that the new solution will solve, and circle back in 12 months to calculate the improvements and prove the business case for IT.
One organisation that has successfully bridged the gap between the business function and IT is Indian insurance company Aegon Religare. The Director of IT and Change Management was tasked with launching operations across 14 independent systems at 25 locations on one day following a merger. This was incredibly important for the business, in order to ensure productivity, superior customer service and fast speed to market.
By building an agency portal to provide a single window for the delivery of business services to all agents, users could find what they need more easily and the number of calls to the call centre was reduced by 20 per cent. This IT project has had such a significant impact on the way the organisation works that the Director of IT and Change Management has since been promoted to Chief Operating Officer, a traditional ‘business’ role.
It’s crucial that IT departments start thinking about how to manage the changing ways of working that are increasingly present in many organisations. Rather than seeing these changes as a threat, by following the simple steps outlined above, IT can develop a strategy that supports the aims of the business and really does bridge the gap between business and IT.