Mike Bohlmann, IT Manager at the University of Illinois, reports that perhaps one of the hardest things about being an IT leader is keeping the technology from playing too large of a role in the decision-making process. The most important part of an IT decision is not the technology, but working smarter. It's easy to tell if an IT decision was made inappropriately, he says. If a new system doesn't get used by a large percentage of the targeted users, it's a good sign that at least some part of the decision was the wrong one. When there is no positive return in the form of cost savings, revenue generation, or new opportunities, an IT project could be said to have failed since every IT project is an investment of time and resources that are in limited supply. When executive management talks to IT for the first time about a large project only after it is done, it's a sign that something is fundamentally wrong. The root cause starts in business-IT alignment.
Business-IT Alignment refers to how well IT serves as an enabler for a business' goals and opportunities, including how quickly it's able to complete its work. Small and midsize businesses have greater facility than large enterprises for aligning business needs with the capabilities of IT. Smaller firms are more nimble, and they're not prone to the inertia that can lurk in enterprise-level IT departments. That does not make alignment easy or automatic.
Good business-IT alignment would be shown when the IT leaders approach the business leaders with the cost benefits or new capabilities that would be enabled by implementing an open source-based environment. By working hard to keep communication flowing between managers and IT, it becomes possible to really impact the business in a positive way with IT decisions that are made for the right reasons. The key enablers to good business-IT alignment center on knowing the business and understanding its needs, and maintaining good relationships with executives and lower-level managers.
There are several ways to get a feel for how a business operates and the issues that face the business' industry as a whole. The first step you should take is to educate yourself. Every IT leader needs to have an understanding of business not only to be able to translate business requirements into technical requirements, but also to see the bigger picture. Being able to talk to executives and business managers in the terms and language they speak goes a long way to fostering good communications and coordination throughout the distribution process.
Just as you begin to build relationships with business managers, though, you also need to work on building a strong working relationship with executives to address the other enablers of business-IT alignment. If you're lucky, you are already on the executive team, but not every organization sees IT as a strategic component of its operations. You need to start building that communication pathway between upper management and IT management. Find out how you can make quarterly or semi-annual presentations to executives and other important people in your organization about the IT projects you have under way and are considering. Be sure that you speak about actual benefits of those projects to the business, not their technical features. You can also use the opportunity to be present for the rest of the meeting to point out problems, goals, and opportunities where IT can help. Being able to intelligently offer an IT-based solution to a business problem will quickly build the rapport you need.
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