5 Ways to Improve IT Effectiveness

Is the information-technology function at your company focusing on the same priorities as the business? Based on a recent survey by The Corporate Executive Board's IT Leadership Exchange, the overwhelming answer to this question is—No.

Through a survey of 150 IT departments at mid-sized companies, the IT Leadership Exchange found that 90 percent of CIOs expect that the IT department will be misaligned with business needs in an economic recovery, and more than half feel that this will threaten the business's long-term competitiveness.

When well aligned with business goals, the IT Leadership Exchange finds that an IT department can boost its effectiveness to the company by 54 percent.

The task of aligning IT and business priorities is more art than science. However, through ongoing conversations with IT executives, the IT Leadership Exchange has identified five imperatives that IT functions must follow to ensure its actions are in line with the company's needs.

1. Focus on Quality, Not Quantity of DiscussionsWhile it's important to talk about project status and budgets, spending too much time on such discussions does not drive business engagement. In fact, it can destroy it. To increase alignment, IT–Business discussions should focus on strategic, relationship-related matters including clearly outlining IT and business partner roles, business unit goals, and potential future projects.

2. Hedge Your Bets in Training InvestmentsTraining for business-facing IT staff should focus on improving specific skill sets that most impact business engagement, namely spotting project interdependencies, translating business needs, and creating concise and focused business cases.

3. Provide Role ClarityIT roles and escalation protocols should be clearly defined and communicated. Informal IT–Business interactions cannot compensate for a lack of formal IT contacts and processes. While IT shouldn't be overly bureaucratic, providing guidelines for regularly scheduled interactions, including project status review or steering committee meetings, will go a long way in engaging the business.

4. Educate Your Business PartnersBuild more informed partners for IT by providing training that helps IT anticipate the unique needs and priorities of key corporate functions, and where possible, institute rotations of business partners into the IT function. Both strategies yield high levels of sustained business alignment.

5. Emphasize Business Partner AccountabilityFocus on ways to tie business partner incentives or MBOs to the outcome of critical IT projects or initiatives. Leading companies employ tactics such as linking project successes to business unit metrics, formally assessing business sponsors' effectiveness throughout a project, and offering "support groups"—small cross-functional classes that help middle managers understand IT strategy and can advocate for IT with their staff.

By following the tips detailed above, IT departments will be able to better align their activities and engage with business goals, boosting their effectiveness and their companies' competitiveness.

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