7 steps for better business-IT collaboration

Technology and InnovationTransformation InnovationTechnology, Data, and Digital
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11月 29, 2021
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Technology and InnovationTransformation InnovationTechnology, Data, and Digital
How to break down barriers and encourage communication between the business and IT.

Excerpt from article originally published in CIO by Mary Pratt

Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Eric Sigurdson shared advice with CIO on how IT and the business can best collaborate.

Break down silos. Build cross-functional teams. Bring in business partners.

CIOs have been hearing those imperatives for years, with each of those commands addressing the need for IT to work hand-in-hand with the business.

Despite such advice and general agreement with it, many CIOs still struggle to get their teams and the business units to collaborate effectively. A 2021 report from software company Dynatrace showed that 49% of the 700 CIOs surveyed said that their IT and business teams continue to work in silos.

Such figures underscore a hard truth: that breaking down barriers and building partnerships takes time and effort.

“These things don’t happen through osmosis. It really is challenging work, and the larger the organization and the IT organization, the more effort it requires,” says Ryan Smith, vice president and CIO at Intermountain Healthcare.

Still, it’s far from impossible.

These 7 steps can help CIOs build better business-IT collaboration.

Build a ‘high say/do ratio’

“The ultimate goal of collaboration is partnership between the business and technology, but that doesn’t happen because you say it. You can say you’re a business-oriented IT leader, you can communicate in business terms, but if the business doesn’t trust you, then you have no partnership. It only happens by building trust and having a track record of delivery,” says Eric Sigurdson, leader of the CIO practice at Russell Reynolds Associates.

He says true partnership comes when IT is part of strategic meetings — discussions about product line extensions, mergers and acquisitions, and customer value — even if those strategic meetings aren’t focused on technology itself.

That partnership only happens, Sigurdson adds, “if the technology leader is demonstrating true value and delivering on the mundane, everyday IT by keeping the trains running on time.”

That starts, he says, with building a “high say/do ratio.”

“It’s super easy in IT to say how great things will be, but then never deliver on it. You need to do what you say and execute with excellence,” Sigurdson says.

He worked with one CIO brought into a global company where IT was stuck in an order-taker role and where IT wasn’t much involved in strategic planning. The new CIO focused on earning trust from the business by offering his executive colleagues more details on IT’s plans, explaining how IT could enable their objectives, and consistently fulfilling the promises made by IT.

The CIO worked to instill that same focus on delivery excellence throughout all rungs of his team by holding them accountable for such performance.

Those steps then led to more collaborative planning sessions between IT and the business.

“He worked with the business to prioritize IT initiatives that had the biggest paybacks and deprioritize those projects that were less impactful, and over the first year and a half gained credibility that he could deliver on what he signed up for. As a result he became a more prominent member of the executive leadership team,” Sigurdson says. “The business then let the CIO into the planning process at earlier stages, where he could collaborate to shape strategy and product.”

Get agile right

Sigurdson says some CIOs sidestep the collaborative elements required by agile, DevOps, and other such development methodologies to avoid the possibility of contentious interactions and pushback from the business side balking at frequent meetings.

“Agile requires the business and technology to engage frequently and intensely on moving through a project,” Sigurdson says. “But now that the business and IT teams are talking every day, that collaboration can be contentious. There’s a lot of back and forth, and being told what you can’t get in the middle of the project is frustrating. It’s not always easy. And it requires candor, strong communication skills.”

But modifications frequently limit, or even take away, those collaborative interactions that are essential to those methodologies. What’s left then is “agile theater,” he says. (Others label it “fake agile.”)

“CIOs have to have training to help instill an Agile methodology that is genuine, as opposed to ‘Agile theater,’ where they use all the terms but they don’t actually embrace some of the hard realities of using the methodology,” Sigurdson says. “You need to train, and you need to train both business and technology so everyone comes to the table understanding this new paradigm.”

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