IT Departments Are Now Seen as Business Partners — What’s Next?

IT departments are more closely aligned to organizations’ business leadership than ever. But much work remains.

Almost everyone who’s worked in IT leadership for any length of time has likely heard similar complaints.

“The IT department doesn’t know how businesspeople do their jobs. The tech people speak in their own language that no one else understands. The IT department is an obstacle to achieving business outcomes, not an enabler.”

Whether that charge was ever fair, to their credit, IT leaders have worked hard through the years to bridge the divide between their departments and the various business units within their organizations.

Many have dropped their technology ­jargon and have learned to communicate with ­leadership, instead, in the ­language of business.

They’ve worked to integrate their departments as vital parts of their organizations, rather than siloed units involved in esoteric ­projects. And they’ve strived to brand themselves to their coworkers as enablers of business ­solutions, not just ­gatekeepers and ­naysayers — and their hard work appears to be paying off.

Business Units Align Their Goals with IT

Recent research has found that business units and IT departments work together more closely, more often and on more important projects.

In CIO magazine’s annual survey of CIOs, 71 percent of respondents said that business units and the IT ­department collaborated more ­frequently in the prior 12 months on projects with shared oversight. “While some disconnect remains, IT and lines of business have turned the corner and are working far more ­collaboratively than in the past,” the magazine concluded.

That is not merely a shift in the ­perception of IT professionals.

About half of respondents working in business roles now regard IT as a ­strategic adviser in identifying new opportunities and recommending a path forward.

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And when asked to describe their CEOs’ priorities for them this year, IT leaders cited their role in helping to achieve revenue growth and leading ­digital business initiatives near the top of the list. Business imperatives drive those shifts.

As more companies learn to appreciate the vital role ­technology will play in keeping them competitive in the near term, they’ve jumped into ­digital transformation ­projects with both feet.

Still, serious work remains for IT departments. While it’s great news that half of business leaders now see IT as a strategic partner, the bad news is that the other half doesn’t. How can those still struggling to more closely align with their business units do so successfully?

For one thing, it’s vital that IT departments get out of the business of taking orders.

IT Departments Need to Own Digital Transformation

In misaligned companies, business units are accustomed to simply ­requesting whatever particular ­technology ­capabilities they think they need.

When IT is viewed as an actual ­partner, ­business units convey their long- and short-term strategic objectives, and technology leaders rec­ommend the capabilities that best suit those goals, including risks (and risk-­management ­strategies), costs and timelines.

That’s a paradigm shift. For IT ­leaders, it means being ­effective at setting priorities and transparent about budgets.

IT departments have already made one great transition in the eyes of their business unit colleagues — from ­obstacles to enablers of business outcomes.

Today, a company’s ­success largely hinges on its IT department’s ability to undergo the next transition: to leaders of digital transformation.

liuzishan/Getty Images
Aug 31 2018

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