Information technology (IT) is revolutionizing almost every aspect of how businesses operate. Organizations are steadily recognizing and leveraging the long-term benefits of IT capabilities, such as risk mitigation or reduction in overhead costs. IT teams are developing innovative, new solutions for resolving inefficiencies, reducing costs, and achieving scalability. For some teams, innovation comes in the form of new software that streamlines operations for sales or finance. For others, IT advancements are manifested as a reduction in network lag times or environmentally conscious processes.
In short, the relationship between business and IT is evolving, and IT leaders must embrace their essential role in driving organizational progress. So, how can IT departments contribute the most strategic value to business stakeholders? Here are 5 practices for developing and implementing an effective IT strategy:
This year, 41.7 percent of executives consider business alignment to be the primary concern for IT leaders. Thus understanding and exceeding executive expectations should be a top priority for every IT team.[i] As key decision-makers, executives are responsible for establishing and directing organization-wide initiatives that reinforce business goals. The onus is on IT leaders to develop tailored strategies that align with the executive direction, forging a supportive relationship between the enterprise and IT.
Having executive support is helpful for multiple reasons. A mutual partnership between IT and management can be beneficial for securing crucial resources. When IT and executive teams are unified, stakeholders are more likely to accept transitions to new systems and processes that may disrupt the status quo. Finally, working with organizational decision-makers ensures that all IT projects serve a business purpose and support overarching objectives, for example increasing market share or outperforming competitors.
All functional enterprise departments rely on IT to enable and drive day-to-day operations. So driving a successful IT strategy is highly reliant on an open dialogue between departmental and IT leaders. When asked to evaluate the pace of technological change in the workplace, 63 percent of managers found progress to be slow, due mainly to poor communication regarding the strategic benefits of new tools.[ii]
It’s important, therefore, for IT leaders to be mindful of how they communicate technical concepts with department heads by using language that emphasizes potential benefits – improved customer service or smoother business operations, for example. As tech experts, IT leaders should address and define operational objectives with department heads and then design solutions for achieving those objectives with the rest of the IT department. On the other hand, when IT is delegated tasks from other departments without considering alternative approaches, businesses risk missing opportunities for improvement.
One way to ensure that IT initiatives are aligned with stakeholder expectations is to create a framework for defining enterprise-wide strategies. In some businesses, this could be a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis or the OGTM (objectives, goals, tactics, and measurements) method. Frameworks like this also enable IT departments to compare departmental plans to find common objectives and suggest consolidated solutions.
IT solutions are critical for driving innovation, value, and cross-functional business operations. After partnering with upper and departmental management on defining strategic initiatives, IT departments should consider which technologies and processes are best suited for meeting the needs of the enterprise.
For example, if a business is having challenges tracking devices, how can IT facilitate effective asset management? A small organization might only require basic tagging and inventory documentation. However, for expanding organizations, implementing a comprehensive Configuration Management Database (CMDB) provides device lifecycle visibility and automated inventory alerts, enabling scalability and longevity for future expansion.
Similarly, if an employee needs IT assistance, what is the best way for he or she to connect with a technician? For a smaller organization with a lower frequency of incidents, it might make sense for employees to report issues through a ticketing software platform. For workforces that require more hands-on support, desk-side assistance or a walk-up help desk may be the best solution. If technicians notice recurring incidents, then it might be of interest to employ a service desk component for more strategic support. All three solutions offer unique advantages, so it’s important to consider multiple factors before kicking off formal implementation.
Periods of change can be stressful for employees, especially when prompted by technology. Maintaining morale and productivity is key for a successful transition, so IT leadership and Human Resources (HR) should work together to design an instructional framework for training employees and addressing issues.[iii]
Instructional frameworks vary by company culture. If a workplace is comprised primarily of early technology adopters, then a minimal framework for supporting and enforcing best practices, such as an online knowledge base, might be preferable to a robust training program. However, a different demographic of employees might benefit from a combination of visual, auditory, or experiential methodologies.[iv] One effective approach for ensuring that employees successfully adopt new tools is to involve them in the installation and setup process. When stakeholders play an active role in implementing technology, they are better equipped to use it properly and recognize abnormalities.
Finally, it’s important to consider the method of consumption for training programs. Will employees need to have access to instructional resources on desktops, laptops, smartphones, or all three? Who is responsible for ensuring a smooth flow of information across departments? In order to avoid chaos and boost confidence, IT and HR departments should create a detailed communication plan to clearly address all of these questions before introducing new technology to the workplace.
No IT strategy is flawless. But in order to evolve, IT departments must be diligent about leveraging analytics to facilitate data-driven improvements and revisions. Outcomes of major IT programs should be evaluated against benchmarks defined by business stakeholders early on, such as the number of employees transitioned to a new technology or the amount of reduction in system-wide interruptions.
If there is a discrepancy between results and expectations, then is there a key functionality that IT has overlooked?[v] Network Operations Centers or IT Service Management tools are effective mechanisms for gaining insight on fluctuations in business performance. Even by following basic practices such as tracking IT contracts or using standard terminology for components, IT departments have the opportunity to consolidate equipment, reduce spending, and achieve deeper technology knowledge.
The rapid advancement of technology is placing IT at the forefront of industry leaders. Executives and stakeholders are increasingly turning to IT for innovative solutions that not only lower costs, but also increase efficiency and add competitive value. Given the wide range of business expectations, successfully implementing an IT strategy can be challenging. But following these five practices can position IT departments to better understand and deliver on strategic goals. For more on aligning IT with enterprise objectives, read our blog, Customer Experience: Where IT Meets Business Strategy.
[i] CIOs' Top Three Concerns for 2017: Alignment, Security, Skill Shortages
[ii] Convincing Skeptical Employees to Adopt New Technology
[iii] 5 Steps to Building an IT Integration Plan
[iv] How to Train Employees on a New Software Rollout
[v] How to Help Employees Embrace New Technology