The question is often asked, “What does ‘business and IT alignment’ really mean?” It is an important question that all businesses should be sure to have asked and answered, regardless of the size of the organization. From the one-person shop to the multi-billion-dollar company, we all rely on Information Technology (IT) to conduct business.
It is needless to say that systems and networks must be available and accessible to enable our day-to-day activities, such as email and internet usage, virtual meetings, website management, payroll processing, tax filing, customer tracking and a host of other functions. However, in the past, the focus of IT was only on technology and often did not consider the overall business objectives of the organization. Technology decisions were made without an understanding of the business impact, and business decisions were made without considering input from, or the impact on, IT resources: the people, processes and technology.
We have come a long way in the last fifteen years. Large and larger-midsized organizations have come to understand that the business goals of the overall organization must be in alignment with the “business goals” of the IT department. Business-IT alignment integrates information technology into the strategy, mission and goals of the organization.
For an organization to be successful in doing this, it must view IT as an instrument which enables business success. IT systems and IT management must be considered to be just as business-critical as the business applications are. When IT aligns with business goals, it pursues IT solutions that will enable the business to meet those goals from an IT perspective. In true business-IT alignment, the business and IT organization work together to achieve the business goals, as opposed to fighting against each other with conflicting goals and objectives.
While Small-Midsized Businesses (SMBs) are aware that technology is critical to the business, there is not often the strong alignment typical of the larger businesses. Due to limited budget, focus on cash-flow, and a host of other very reasonable concerns, SMBs are not as inclined to make the necessary investment in IT which is required to have a highly-available, stable, and secure IT infrastructure to enable the business. The reasons are justifiable, but the risk of not doing so is incredibly high.
Therefore, SMBs should work with their IT Service Provider, be it in-house or external, to be sure that there is alignment of goals and objectives. There will be a cost involved, but with that cost is an expectation that the business goals and objectives can be achieved more quickly, that profit margins will be higher, and that there will be a better Return on Investment (ROI) and lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) due to the increases in efficiency and operational effectiveness.
An organization which invests in the technology that will support, enable, and improve the way they conduct business, positions itself for growth and allows for more focus to be placed on the business of doing business, rather than on the aftermath of issues and outages, and the customer impact of technology mishaps. The SMB can expect an improved customer experience and fewer growth pains as their business expands.
Following are some helpful tips for better Business-IT Alignment:
- Plan: When defining business goals and objectives, take the time to plan what additions and/or changes to IT are required to enable the business to meet those goals and objectives.
- Identify: Diagram the business solution as well as the supporting IT solution. Identify the intersection points, and clearly understand the resulting business impact in the case that a component of the business and/or IT solution has an outage or is compromised.
- Manage: Manage and monitor the overall health (availability and performance) of the business solution using automated tools wherever possible. Use the monitoring tools’ remediation capabilities to implement a defined process for the automation of service restoration. Consider the basic rule of Continual Service Improvement (CSI): you cannot improve what you do not first measure.
Once business and IT goals and objectives of an organization have been aligned, IT becomes an agent of change, as businesses continually seek ways of improving, transforming and constantly adjusting to the ever-changing demands of the market.