Practical Ways to Bridge the Gap Between IT and The Business

Every successful enterprise, obviously, relies on a range of skillsets within the organization: strategic, financial, promotional, technical, managerial, inspirational, and interpersonal. But why is the “technical” component–IT groups in particular–so often criticized for being disconnected or out of sync with “the business”? In contrast, no one ever complains that their company’s accounting department is holding back the organization’s forward progress.

Mark Thiele, in the InformationWeek article Sync IT And Business Like A School Of Fish, writes:

How to bridge the gap between IT and the business“Keeping IT and business in sync is not a new goal — it’s been discussed for years…Even when the business removes political and functional barriers, there are serious limitations in how quickly and effectively IT can respond. The limitations of legacy IT relate to the difficulty of effecting change…The fact is, businesses have historically always acted faster than IT, and new digitally driven business models will only widen the chasm.”

His recommendation is an approach he terms “composable IT”–essentially, basing the delivery of operational capabilities “on services outside the enterprise datacenter” in order to more deftly adapt to  “mobility, cloud, SaaS, wearable tech, the Internet of Things,” and other emerging trends in this era of disruptive IT change.

The recommendations in this article are, for the most part, thoughtful and productive; particularly in terms of how training and incentive systems will need to change in order to accelerate adoption. But discussions of the “chasm” between IT and the business too often paint IT professionals as resistant to change, or even opposed to new business technologies.

That’s nonsense, of course. Everybody in business (that includes IT professionals) wants to be the hero: to exceed expectations, improve the bottom line, bring new capabilities to the enterprise, enhance productivity, reduce costs, and still be home in time for dinner.

Given the wave of new cloud-based and mobile capabilities washing over the business world, IT groups undeniably need to evolve practices to be more nimble and agile. But business leaders and users in other functional areas also need to understand that sometimes there are extremely valid reasons to wait, or at least proceed with caution, that are indeed in the best interests of “the business.”

Here are three practical ways to productively bridge the perceived gap between IT and other business functions, and move forward in ways that embrace change without discarding prudence.

Recognize the importance—to the business—of system and data security. As noted here previously, the attitude of IT groups in general toward the BYOD trend changed dramatically in just 24 months; in some companies, from forbidding the use of employees’ own devices for work to demanding it.

IT leaders weren’t wrong to be cautious of employees using their personal devices to access business systems back in 2011 when data security, anti-theft, data backup, and device management tools were weak or lacking, any more than they’ve been wrong to shift to a more embracing approach as those tools have matured (though somesecurity concerns remain).

Data security is a business concern, not just an IT worry. The average cost of a data breach is $3.5 million, and includes not just direct loss but also loss of customers (and customer confidence) and, in many cases, negative media coverage.

The challenge for IT leaders is to communicate the risks of poor data security in business terms. It’s not that the latest mobile business intelligence app isn’t really cool and useful, it’s that CIOs don’t want to risk millions of dollars and the company’s reputation on an untested and insecure connection to corporate data.

Don’t “throw out the baby with the bathwater.” Without delving into the origins of that idiom, in this context it means: don’t presume it’s best to throw out those dusty old legacy applications and replace them all with cloud-based apps. In many mature enterprises, core legacy applications remain vital in storing customer and financial data and running fundamental business processes.

That said, applying intuitive, web-based, mobile-friendly systems of engagement to legacy management and control systems of record increases enterprise agility and flexibility, as well as the speed with which IT can respond to changes in the business, without the difficulty and risk of modifying core legacy application code.

Empower business users to create their own solutions (using approved tools). One example of this is in enterprise request management (ERM) rollouts; graphical mapping tools enable business process owners in any department (e.g., HR for PTO requests, facilities for conference room reservations) to design, test, optimize, and deploy their own workflow processes–with minimal IT assistance.

ERM represents, in many ways, the ideal approach to the new IT paradigm; give users information about the options, capabilities, and costs of different approaches to solving business problems, then enable them to choose from a (tested and approved) set of alternatives.

To respond to rapid change, in both business practices and technology, IT groups need to adopt approaches and processes that support speed and flexibility. As Thiele and other authors point out, some old beliefs and practices will need to be discarded. But prudence, maintaining a clear-eyed view of data security, and leveraging existing investments wherever possible will never become obsolete.

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