How the Business/IT Alignment Gap Is Like Being Stuck in a Hot Air Balloon

By Brad Ellison| September 27, 2017

I read this joke the other day and had to admit it made me chuckle because it rang very true from my experience working in IT.

A man flying in a hot air balloon suddenly realizes he is lost. He reduces height and spots a man down below. He lowers the balloon further and shouts to get directions.

BALLOONIST: “Excuse me, can you tell me where I am?"

MAN BELOW: "Yes, you're in a hot air balloon hovering 30 feet above this field."

BALLOONIST: "You must work in information technology.”

MAN BELOW: "I do. How did you know?"

BALLOONIST: "Well, everything you have told me is technically correct, but it's of no use to anyone."

MAN BELOW: "You must work in business."

BALLOONIST: "I do, but how did you know?"

MAN BELOW: "Well, you don’t know where you are or where you’re going, but you expect me to be able to help you figure it out. You’re in the same position you were before we met, but now it’s my fault."

I started my career as a hands-on Systems Engineer, so I was deeply embedded in “Team IT.” Back then, we had our own objectives – to keep the lights on. The expectation was to keep core systems and applications running while providing some end-user support when issues surfaced. The extent of business alignment was installing new applications that the business felt they needed to support processes and operations.

I later transitioned to an Engagement Manager role with BDO Digital, leveraging my technical background to act almost as a translator, helping “Team Business” and “Team IT” speak the same languages. This has brought me a unique perspective on midmarket digital transformation and how to achieve it. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

Goal Misalignment

It’s easy to spot customers that have IT-Business alignment and those who don’t.

Those who don’t, for example, ask me to help install a new wireless solution because it’s new and faster, but don’t know how it aligns with business objectives and requirements.

Then there are customers who ask me to help automate and create efficiencies for their sales staff so they can reach more customers and close deals more quickly. They want this because it is part of their three-year business strategy driven by business needs.

Guess which customer is going to have the competitive advantage over the other?

How does this misalignment between IT and Business objectives happen in the first place?

  • Misunderstanding of IT’s Role in the Business
    One of the biggest misperceptions is that IT isn’t part of the business. IT is an integral part of the success, or failure, of an organization. Acknowledging this on both sides is a big step in the right direction.
  • Lack of Communication
    This is probably at the root of most problems in life, and in business, it’s no different. Each side needs to make decisions with the other’s valuable input.
  • Lack of Long-Term Thinking and Shared Strategy
    Technology is continuously evolving; business and IT need a long-term strategy to continuously nurture it. Digital transformation is a never-ending game, and companies that invest in automation and continuous training and development of their teams will have a higher success rate.
  • Lack of a Planning Process and Governance
    Even when you agree on shared IT and business strategies, your planning process must be detailed at the operational level and incorporate change management. Plan governance must be included to determine what metrics will be used to measure your success.
  • Lack of Modern Technology
    If you’re still using legacy systems and software, your IT team will spend most of its energy on maintaining them with little time for anything else, let alone new innovations. Companies need to implement modern IT. While that can be overwhelming, the new business landscape is a reality that can’t be ignored. Just ask Blockbuster.
  • Lack of Resources
    Many IT departments are stretched thin or lack the necessary technical expertise that’s needed. Luckily, there are partners and resources to assist with this so they can focus on what they do best.

End Goal of IT-Business Alignment

Technology and its impact on business has accelerated rather quickly, to where businesses need to rely on IT to maintain a competitive stance in the marketplace. Data, user experience, effective use of cloud, etc., all drive productivity, increased ROI, and help to improve decision-making. Without IT-business alignment, a business can only make it so far before they lose relevancy and market share.
Ultimately, the goal for any company is to improve ROI and drive greater profitability. IT plays a direct role in increasing ROI, and business frankly can’t do it without them. IT enables business and simultaneously, business drives IT.

From IT’s perspective, common challenges become obsolete. Aligning business and IT’s goals allows IT to modernize, be prioritized in budgets, and have a seat at the table. Doing this will help your business:

  • Reduce reactive spending
  • Retain IT staff and create growth opportunities
  • Deliver IT solutions on time and within business expectations
  • Eliminate duplicity of initiatives
  • Improve customer satisfaction, internally and externally
  • Create competitive advantage

It’s a win-win situation and no one is left floating in a hot air balloon by themselves. If you’re not sure how to start, BDO Digital can help show you the steps many other businesses have taken to align with their IT. Contact us to start the conversation.

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