IT/Business Alignment and Staff Development
An important responsibility for many CIOs today is aligning IT with the overall business. Regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLB) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) have made this a priority as companies evaluate how their IT systems can be more secure in the context of larger organizational goals.
For most executives, IT/business alignment isnt too much of a stretch, since IT has become well integrated within other areas of the organization. For instance, efforts to safeguard financial data and improve reporting capabilities within accounting couldnt be successful without collaboration with the IT department. The expertise of your groups members is needed throughout the company.
When thinking about what it takes to more effectively align IT with the business, its critical to focus on your staff. After all, theyre the ones who are on the front lines, talking to managers about their requests for new software or addressing the daily technology implications of new operations in another country, for example. You may have the necessary big-picture mind-set needed to lead broader initiatives, but your employees also must share this skill as they play a role in decision-making, recommending solutions and responding to changes in business priorities.
Roles such as business systems analyst, project manager and applications development manager are just a few that are actively involved in working with client groups to determine how technology can best serve them. Heres how you can ensure these professionals and others on your team have what it takes to support IT/business alignment:
Beyond Business Acumen
Before you start encouraging employees to enhance their knowledge of finance, marketing and management issues, recognize that theres more to being business-savvy than just a solid foundation in the basics. After all, someone may have a strong understanding of ways to improve return on investment, but if the person lacks the ability to share that expertise effectively with others, the know-how isnt much of an asset.
Strong communication skills are an important supplement to business acumen. Employees need to be able to explain ideas well in written and oral form to audiences ranging from co-workers and managers to suppliers and service providers. They must have an ability to collaborate, listen to new ideas and negotiate.
Project management abilities also are valuable in IT-business alignment. Technology professionals need to be able to lead initiatives from start to finish, staying on budget and on schedule, to support company goals.
A strategic mindset is another key skill. Employees must see how their work affects the bottom line and understand the importance of not just achieving goals, but making sure theres maximum benefit to the company.
Developing a team with the skills outlined above wont happen overnight, but there are steps you can take to transfer this knowledge. Start by evaluating the way you share information as a leader. When a new project begins, do you explain to staff how their work will affect the companys broader goals? Are you open about growth opportunities as well as competitive challenges the firm is likely to face in the coming months and years?
You cant expect employees to see the big picture if youre not disclosing this information to them.
Consider ways to increase learning about other areas of the business. Assigning mentors from other departments or encouraging employees to shadow colleagues in different business groups for a day can broaden understanding of issues affecting the firm.
Formal training also can be beneficial. Many courses are available today through associations and business schools that are customized for IT professionals and focus on topics such as leadership, strategic planning and communication. To encourage enrollment, offer reimbursement for these programs and provide the necessary time off to complete the classes.
On a smaller scale, make sure employees have access to industry publications and business journals, so they are on top of trends that may affect your company. Also, promote websites to staff that cover the issues you feel are paramount to the organization and its success.
Your efforts to align IT with the business depend on having employees who are both technology gurus and business gurus. With these talents in place, youll find that your team is better able to coordinate projects, assess risks, determine budgets, apply technology and manage vendor relationships. Not only will your department be more efficient, but it will have enhanced its value to the entire organization.
Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.