Resolving the Tension between the Business and IT through Action

Technology and Digital

By

March 22, 2018

It’s been said time and time again. “IT and the business have misaligned priorities.” “IT needs to partner more effectively with the business.” As we enter a new technological revolution – one that includes automation, blockchain, cloud computing, and other emerging technologies, IT—the department historically responsible for technology infrastructure and operational support, and the business—which includes departments responsible for activities in support of revenue generation—once again find themselves in a place of tension. The business needs to change faster—and, in turn, needs IT to build solutions that can change more often and faster. We believe that a solution to the tension between IT and the business lies in fostering ways of working that prioritize agility, experimentation, and resilient systems – a combination that can only be achieved by driving action into the organization. 

While technology has evolved, a common theme rings true. The business prioritizes risk and growth, whereas the IT department prioritizes stability and reliability across systems. In the simplest terms, IT historically brings baggage to the IT-business relationship. Even the most incremental of IT changes require the provisioning of hardware and space, among other dependencies, that can hamper the rapid innovation that has become a mandate for survival.  

As legacy organizations right-size the role of emerging technologies, entrenched “IT” and “business” silos compound the challenges of effective partnership. It often comes down to risk-taking vs. risk aversion. For example, one of our financial services clients recently launched an innovation group to explore the role of blockchain in the business. At the same time, IT is centrally focused on securing the basic stability of environment and systems. In this dynamic, the business wants to action change as quickly as possible, whereas the IT team is driven to ensure the reliability of systems supporting it. 

Similarly, many organizations are moving from data storage centers to the cloud for several reasons that make business sense– including improved efficiency, scalability, and cost savings. As the business focuses on driving these outcomes, IT finds itself concerned with a different goal, managing cloud-based data securely. 

With the business and IT frequently having different sets of priorities for some initiatives, where do we go from here? At the end of the day, the IT-business dilemma stems from the reality that business performance curves are steepening. The business needs to change faster—and, in turn, IT needs to keep up. By prioritizing agility, experimentation, and resilient systems, organizations can unleash change through action.  

Building a system that prioritizes action won’t happen overnight. It requires a fundamental shift in thinking across IT and the business that boils down to several actionable components: 

  • Co-create a desired end-result, focusing only on the actions that can drive both IT and the business to that result. Focus on finding new ways for IT to engage and educate its internal customer stakeholder groups in building a better path to a common result 
  • Strengthen your organization’s joint execution capabilities through agile ways of working, DevOps practices, funding, and adjustments to organizational risk structure 
  • Consider building out separate IT business support and operations teams, in alignment with two-speed IT principles, to ensure that the lights stay on as innovation activities take place 

The dynamic between the business and IT hasn’t budged materially within the last 30 years. As new technologies emerge that render many skills and capabilities of the IT organization obsolete, it’s time to move past the discussion. Against this backdrop, it’s never been more critical for the business and IT to work together to build mechanisms for action.  


This blog was co-authored by Kevin Burkhart

Kevin Burkhart

Kevin is a Vice President at North Highland. He brings 20 years of experience in leadership and business management in the consulting industry. He has a track record of achievement in developing and implementing digital and emerging technology solutions for leading companies. Burkhart is deeply skilled at driving strategy and performance, selling emerging solutions, and managing executive client relationships. He specializes in creating technology practices that focus on building the people, skills and processes necessary to help clients solve complex problems.

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