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How should Business and IT Leaders Interact?

An issue of CIO Dashboard begins with five IT assessment questions which a new CIO should investigate.  Of the five, two related to the relationship between business and IT.  These were:

First, do business and IT leaders regularly interact?

Second, can business sponsors for the top 5 projects describe a project’s business case in one sentence?  (This is quite a feat!)

Taking them in turn, the interaction CIO Dashboard describes has nothing to do with a quick hallway discussion or even the regular status meetings, which I think most would agree are not a good use of time.  Rather, they suggest a ‘regularly scheduled time during which real issues are discussed and concrete planning is discussed on a one-on-one basis.’  An example they give is a weekly meeting between a CTO and a head of business strategy.  Real work can be accomplished in a meeting where leaders seriously question each other and change direction if necessary.  I know a company which has weekly reviews of its technology accomplishments with the business counterpart.  The continuation of the technology project is subject to the weekly assessment of the business manager — this is a lot of work but it engages both parties in mutual goals and doesn’t let troubled projects go astray.

CIO Dashboard identifies regular meetings you should look for as indicative of a interaction that can distinguish a company:

  • CTO/Chief Architect with the head of strategy
  • CTO/Chief Architect with the head of new product/service development
  • Head of Applications with the business unit/functional leaders
  • Head of Ops/Infrastructure with the head of customer service
  • IT person responsible for people with the head of HR/recruiting
  • IT Controller with the corporate controller

These partnerships are in line with my point of view about fully engaging the other party.  Unless both business and IT have ongoing and trusted discussions, where meaningful decisions can be made, there will be continual disappointment with the output of the technology organization, and they will remain as mere providers of infrastructure.

How many business sponsors really understand the technology business case?  Normally these are completed by the IT organization with revenue and non-technical costs provided by the business.  But generally the responsibility falls to the technology staff to write and build the business case.  This is backwards!  The business should be in the lead and provide:

  • Succinctly stated business objective to be met by the IT project — there can be no hesitation here
  • Metrics of project success, including timing
  • Revenue (of the non-hockey stick variety)
  • Improvements, if any, to business process enabled by the technology implementation and cost reductions or competitive enhancement
  • Changes in brand value or market position due to the technology

To improve the dialogue between business and technology, you really need to get into the nitty-gritty and share responsibility for the process and end product.  Why does it seem that other service providers — marketing, finance — don’t appear to have the same difficulty having a truly harmonious approach?