Of all things, it was an Alexa for Business demo that got me thinking about IT’s relationship with the business.
Before, setting up a conference call meant fighting cables, fumbling with projector remotes, dialing in, and (hopefully) remembering the right passcode. Now, you only need to say “Alexa, start my meeting,” and you’re in. The system automatically lowers the screen, sets the monitor to the appropriate input, and initiates the conference call based on information in the meeting room’s calendar. The difference was night and day.
What struck me was not how painless conference calls would be in the future, but the fact that there is a new generation of business leadership that has grown up with this type of powerful technology.
This new generation will not accept the traditional limitations of technology. They will question the status quo. And IT’s efforts in business-relationship management (BRM) will only become less and less effective.
If nothing is done soon, the business community will continue to look outside of IT for solutions, manage their own solutions, and drift further and further away.
The IT-business gap
Let’s face it: traditional BRM is broken. For years, IT has tried to bridge the IT-business gap with technical business relationship managers, who would go out with a toolkit of technology asking: what can we apply these tools to? But as I’ve illustrated above, the new generation of business leaders does not look at it that way.
These new leaders are looking more for an experience—for their employees, customers, suppliers—and they’re asking, “How can we provide this experience?” What data, technologies, and processes do we need?
Ultimately, I think it’s important for CIOs to recognize this shift and embrace it rather than fight it. We need to embrace the fact that we have a more knowledgeable business audience and we need a new approach.
Instead of sending IT people out into the business, we should bring tech-savvy business people into IT. These individuals don’t need to be part of the IT organization, but there needs to be a forum that would allow new ideas to come into the IT organization and really influence how solutions are developed and delivered.
This approach offers two key advantages that traditional BRM lacks. One, these business leaders would have a deep understanding of the business (as well as the technology). Two, they would have the support and confidence of the business because they’re coming up through the business.
Solving the problem
There are no shortcuts, but I do see a path for IT to capitalize on this new generation of business leadership that’s coming into the organization.
First, evaluate the landscape. Explore the business functions within your company and see which ones are evolving the fastest. Your company isn’t moving at the same rate, so the key here is to spot where transformation is happening and focus on accelerating that change.
Second, start talking to the business. Work with current business leaders to identify individuals who have a better appreciation of how technology can make a difference and are interested in bridging the IT-business gap. A customer-facing group such as marketing would be a good place to start as they’re in a highly competitive space and are often forced to evolve quickly.
Third, reallocate resources. Stop investing in traditional BRM and start mobilizing these business leaders to garner more support from other parts of the company. They should form a layer within IT that is less focused on technology and more on cooperating and supporting the business. Their main goal would be to translate IT rules and regulations into something that is more understandable and collaborative, looking at the desired outcome rather than any individual policy.
Traditionally, IT has been mainly responsible for the infrastructure and application portfolio, while the business drives the innovative stuff. This is the legacy of how IT interfaces with the business and it’s not going to change. If anything, with the new generation of tech-savvy leaders, the business will only gain more influence and power over the technology that is used.
To remain relevant, IT has got to adapt and become part of that conversation. IT has got to have a seat at the table or be relegated to managing whatever is handed to it. If IT leaders are going to participate, then they are going to have to listen and be more collaborative rather than trying to dictate the policies and standards.
Now, if only Alexa could help with that.
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Bill Fowler has designed and led large complex consulting engagements for Fortune 500 clients and has worked on some of the world’s largest outsourcing agreements. He is committed to helping clients develop effective, sustainable sourcing solutions that align with their strategic and operational objectives.
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