Saturday, June 02, 2007

Line of Business and IT Alignment is Fundamental

Many companies pay little attention to the importance of the alignment that must take place between the Lines of Businesses and IT. This is primarily because the alignment requires for the Line of Businesses to invite IT to their visioning and/or brainstorming sessions frequently to form their strategic and tactical directions. Most companies have a disfunctional way of making these decisions about their future without leveraging and harnessing the knowledge from their IT organization. In part, many IT experts are responsible for this lack of trust. But in general, the Lines of Businesses should be focus on being experts at their core functions and truly leverage and trust their technology decision process and execution to a collaborative relationship with IT. If you are calling IT after you have made all decisions on technology, you have just added a significant amount of hidden cost to the enterprise and inefficiencies to IT. The lack of collaboration from both sides results in lesser customer satisfaction, more cost, and less reliable solutions in the long run.

So how do you make true progress with Line of Business and IT alignment?

Start by defining a process on how business strategy, business process refinement, purchasing of new applications, and old application sunsetting is a tight lifecycle driven by the Line of Business requirements to meet all customer needs that leverages a choice of enterprise architecture that will result in the best ROI for stakeholders and managed by IT.

At the top of that alignment is the need to select a criteria for how projects/applications/solutions deliver the strategic and tactical objectives of the enterprise. That criteria is fed into the Portfolio Management Tool and Process for the critical scoring that ranks traditionally hard to compare projects. Now that you have finally chosen openly, collaboratively and methodically what to do and have a ranked list to share with everyone, the question is ................. what is next? Precisely.

So, the Line of Business and IT alignment is more than a selection criteria (even tough this is fundamental to make any progress going forward), the Line of Business and IT alignment needs to deliver a clear process on how the company goes about introducing new applications/solutions, refining business processes, and sunsetting old application/solutions, while increasing customer satisfaction, reducing costs, and increasing efficiencies. I call this Roadmapping.

Companies that achieve alignment typically do so by establishing a set of well-planned process improvement programs that systematically address obstacles and go beyond executive level conversation to permeate the entire organization and its culture.

My RunITbiz Framework delivers the steps to discover, plan, execute and measure how to do successful roadmapping.

The discovery step is about understanding the current landscape. The as is state, as many refer to it. How could you get to London from Austin, if you didn't know that you were departing from Austin? Say you thought you were departing from Austin and had the exact resources for that trip, but instead you were actually departing from Sidney? Your trip would run out of resources midway in the air. Do you get my analogy? I hope so. Not understanding your departing location is currently a common mistake that most companies make. Most people in the Line of Business don't want to invest energy and time on documenting and truly mapping with a tool the current business processes on how they do business. Until you overcome that obstacle, any selection of tools and their execution is plain gambling and hoping for a successful outcome.

The planning step is about translating business objectives and requirements into the right IT applications/solutions. This step requires the famous exercise of creating a WBS or Work Breakdown Structure to fully understand each task required to do the job and the outcome expected. Once all the tasks, dependencies, and legitimate durations are mapped out, you can move forward.

The execution step gets into the project plan itself. Most companies have a project management office (we do for 5 years now) that owns this step. We chose five years ago to become PMI compatible, when we created our PMO. And since then, all our project manager are PMP certified. There are many advantages to following the methodology and best practices of an organization like PMI, but the most important ones for me are transparency and accountability.

The measuring step is about tracking the execution, which improves cross-organization visibility into operations and service level commitments. Component-level metrics and measures are certainly important for ongoing service availability. And they must be tracked an shared to view the progress. A higher level of transparency would have the measures shared to be interpreted in a broader business context, including their relationship to business-critical services. Without a business context for interpreting measures and metrics, isolated functional groups can't get a holistic view of IT services that support business objectives.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet and hurry up strategy to get there. Building Line of Business and IT Alignment is a journey that requires several levels maturity and iteration. So don't delay and start with defining the as is state today.

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