Engaging Executive IT Leadership

In a recent post,1Business Engagement Is Lost when Architecture is Technology-Focused. I discussed the value of architecture in structuring people, processes, information, and technology into solutions which address business challenges and enable the organization to deliver business value.  In this way, architecture provides a crucial link between business and technology capabilities, but it also helps bridge the gap between business and technology organizations.  In my experience, everyone seems to agree that the two groups need to work more closely together; at least I don’t hear the suggestion that business owners should throw requirements over the wall and come back six months later for acceptance testing.  However, this is not too far from what often happens in practice, and the results are felt in many organizations regardless of function, industry, or maturity:  IT effectiveness is hampered, business stakeholders are frustrated, and the gulf between business and IT grows until it seems that never the twain shall meet.

The single most important way to address this issue is for IT managers and architects to act as executive leaders of the enterprise and not merely as technical mechanics. 2See my earlier post, Technical Mechanics vs. Executive IT Leaders. However, IT does not bear all of the blame for architecture and solutions that miss their mark.  Business leadership is a critical part of the process, and one of the most important things that business leaders can do is to set an expectation of and hold their IT counterparts accountable for executive enterprise leadership.

There are many reasons why the business does not fully engage IT in decisions about defining and achieving business objectives.  Some of these reasons are justified, including the IT shortcomings I have mentioned.  Regardless, high performing organizations cannot afford to treat IT as overhead, and it is shortsighted to focus primarily on cost when evaluating technology options.

IT is no longer just a support service and it hasn’t been for a long time.  Systems and information flows are central to virtually every business function in a modern organization.  Moreover, beyond being just an enabler, information and technology are increasingly becoming the business.  For example, as markets mature, product quality trends toward homogeneity across competitors, and the costs of innovation increase.  In this environment, differentiation and value are driven by a sophisticated understanding of the customer and by interacting with them in personalized, engaging, and value-added ways.  IT doesn’t just make this possible – technology-driven interactions are the new shop floor where businesses engage with their customers, and information systems are the source of the differentiating customer understanding that makes those interactions successful.

Because of this driving role, when business and technology leaders come together, it is not enough to focus on keeping costs down.  Enterprise IT leaders will have much more to offer than optimization of technology investments.  Because systems are so pervasive, these leaders are in a unique position to share a deep understand of end-to-end business operations across functions and lines of business.  They can highlight risks and costs that others may not be in a position to see.  More importantly, they will be able to identify opportunities for greater value.  Many of these will involve more than just new technology.  They will integrate organizations and information from across the enterprise together to create new capabilities and enable business to be conducted in new and innovative ways.

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