Bridging the Gap Between Management and IT

Last August, a group of former GartnerGroup executives launched a new IT research firm, Technology Evaluation Center (TEC, Boston), offering free online research and premium off-line services. In the organization’s first open teleconference, titled “How Do You Put the CEO in the IT Driver’s Seat?,” TEC analyst James Dowling discussed the most prominent problems facing CIOs and promoted one of TEC’s services, Continual Business Alignment (CBA), which representatives say has proved to be an early success for the upstart firm.

There are two major, separate but related obstacles for companies trying to build the most effective IT strategy, Dowling told teleconference participants. Those are: a lack of communication between IT and management in establishing an IT agenda, and a lack of understanding about how to implement that agenda efficiently. One way to combat these problems, Dowling explains, is through TEC’s Continual Business Alignment program, which is designed to open the lines of communication between the management and IT sides of the business house.

“Very smart collaboration between the forward-looking IT and the forward-looking management—these are very successful kinds of partnerships,” says Dowling, who serves as VP of TEC’s Alignment Consulting Practice.

An IT strategy can only be successful, according to Dowling, if it is developed in conjunction with what he refers to as “business drivers.” If a CIO’s staff is made aware of the conditions that are most likely to directly or indirectly affect business growth, they can build applications around the specifics of the way the company will be conducting business in the immediate future.

“The most powerful tool that we have seen to date is we get the executive committee to agree on the business drivers and then we connect every IT decision to a business driver,” Dowling says. “If it can’t be connected to a business driver, there’s no reason to do it.”

TEC’s CBA fosters communication between a CIO’s staff and the business side of an organization, in order to reach an understanding of how best to coordinate businesses goals with technology needs. TEC analysts then synthesize the IT and business agendas to decide how best to implement changes or improvements. Once the technology is in place, TEC implements a quarterly review process to evaluate how well alignment goals are being realized.

Besides better communication among disparate parts of the business, Dowling claims that a service such as CBA provides another benefit: increased efficiency. If technology and business goals are more closely aligned, it enables decision-makers to plan for the long-term, instead of adding components to the system architecture as they become immediately necessary.

“Simplicity is really the golden rule where IT is concerned,” he says. “When we wanted to look at wasted costs, we see they come from complexity. We’ve found that in many cases, if two projects had been combined at the infrastructure level into one, the cost would have been significantly reduced.”

Dowling says the response to TEC’s methods “has been almost overwhelming,” and adds that company CIOs have expressed a variety of reasons for choosing TEC. But one in particular stands out—the ability of TEC’s process to give the IT staff a feeling of independence once the new system is implemented.

“Almost unanimously it is that we teach the process and we train them at the same time,” he explains. “Right behind that is speed -- the entire process is completed in less than 12 weeks. We know it usually takes about three cycles (business quarters) for an IT staff to get familiar with this process on their own. So we really wean ourselves out pretty quickly.”

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