Business People Who Provide IT Solutions: Breaking Down Departmental Walls
All segments of a business are interrelated, despite being organized into departments and teams. In some companies, the barriers between various parts of the business are so distinct, it’s more like a collection of disparate entities working side-by-side than a single entity. To make it even harder, the globalization of companies has spread people across the world in incompatible time zones. Despite these challenges, in order for the organization to reach maximum efficiency, profitability, and customer satisfaction, those pieces have to be connected—and communication between business segments is key.
Collaboration + Communication = Success
The IT department may have once been able to operate autonomously, but today, business and technology must collaborate and communicate to be successful. Several barriers exist; IT professionals and their business counterparts are not accustomed to working together and change is uncomfortable. Both parties expect the other to have the expertise to do their jobs and may not feel the need to collaborate. They speak in terms the other doesn’t understand, and they often have conflicting priorities.
Rather than considering themselves as being responsible only for storage, operations, or the system, technicians should think of themselves as being responsible for the lifeblood of the business. More and more, without IT, there is no business. As a business, many factors must be considered—unlike only thinking about things from an IT perspective. Similarly, business leaders should consider IT an extension of their department and product - as important to their success as sales or accounting.
Times have changed and the data that the IT department is entrusted to store, protect, and make available as appropriate is far more valuable to the business than it may have been in the past. Part of the reason is that there’s simply more of it, but other factors come into play as well.
The Data Is the Business
The data is the differentiator of any business. It’s what makes the business unique and profitable. The processing, protection, and storage of data is the realm of the IT department. But in many ways, the data is the business—so it only makes sense for the owners of the data, the business leaders, to be involved in decisions regarding IT infrastructure.
The problem, of course, is that business leaders may not have the expertise or depth of knowledge to immediately understand the impact of embracing various platforms and architectures. IT professionals often end up making decisions that impact the business either because they don’t have the opportunity to educate the business side, or because they don’t know how to go about doing so.
Breaking down the silos between departments improves communication and makes collaboration possible.
An Example of Collaboration
A hypothetical, but also very common, example of how business and IT communication and collaboration happen today may be seen in how an IT department approaches a problem for which a partial solution exists. The company has a roadmap, a plan that requires numerous elements to be in place in order to provide optimal protection of the data, but the only available solution gets 50% of the way there.
That means that the data can be 50% more protected than it is today, but too often, technicians will stop there and decide that an incomplete solution is the same as no solution at all. As with most things, no solution is 100% perfect. Waiting to do something until there is a comprehensive resolution may not be the best choice for the organization. You end up with people viewing things from a purely technical perspective and making business decisions to accept risk because the solution doesn’t check all the boxes, rather than presenting the issue to their business counterparts who may well have a different assessment of the risk. A better approach is having the two teams put their heads together to look at other possibilities, giving both the IT and business sides a chance to leverage their expertise. The more knowledge you’re drawing from, the closer you can get to your desired solution.
While it’s true that IT professionals understand the various components necessary to the operation, they may not understand the ramifications of doing nothing until everything is available. The business needs to have the opportunity to make those decisions. Communication allows business to be involved in decisions that could impact the entire organization and gives IT the chance to better understand how their actions affect all parts of the operation.
The Infrastructure Holds Up the Whole Business
One of the areas that has the greatest impact on the entire operation is that of infrastructure—which is also firmly in the realm of the IT department. Any transition or digital transformation of the infrastructure must be considered from a business perspective. If an organization is deciding to migrate entirely to the cloud, implement a hybrid cloud solution, modernize their existing infrastructure or make other big changes, all elements of the business must be considered.
Collaboration between IT and business pays off. An IDC whitepaper titled “The Quantified Benefits of Modernizing IBM Z and IBM i to Spur Innovation,” which details a study that included more than 440 businesses that either modernized or replatformed, states:
“What we found across the platforms is that ‘modernizers’ incurred lower costs for their modernizing initiative than replatformers for their replatforming effort, even if they invested the same amount of new hardware; that modernizers were across the board more satisfied with the many new capabilities of their modernized platform than replatformers; and that modernizers achieved a new baseline in which they paid less for hardware, software, and staffing while substantially increasing their revenue.”
When IT takes a seat at the business table, the value proposition changes. IT has traditionally made the business run, but when IT professionals work with business administrators, business is enhanced, and IT finally gets to be a participant in growing the business. According to a Gartner paper titled “Accelerate Your I&T Operating Model Transformation by Overcoming Challenges,” the overall result of IT moving from “run the business, to enhance the business, to grow the business” is an organizational culture that is “increasingly adaptive, creative, and entrepreneurial.”
The cost of getting to the solution, along with the cost of maintaining a new platform must be considered. Often, leaders only consider the ongoing cost of implementing the solution and fail to account for various expenses associated with transitioning from one platform to another. Additionally, the cost of managing processes, applications, and skills should be considered both from the perspective of the IT department and from a wider, business viewpoint. Extra effort to maintain an infrastructure can cause more work in the absence of the right technology.
Achieving success requires collaboration and understanding between business and IT. We have the same goals, and what we do needs to be done in the spirit of collaboration to reach those goals. It has to be with an understanding of the whole ecosystem, including the customer’s perspective and thinking into the future. We have to be business people, providing IT solutions.