How IT and Business Can Work Together To Benefit The Customer

IT and business need to work together
IT and business need to work together
Image Credit: ccbarr

CIOs need to ask themselves why should the business and IT collaborate? Perhaps a better question is why wouldn’t they collaborate? We need to understand that business units like sales, marketing, and operations have direct interactions with customers that are enabled or empowered by technology — technology that’s typically managed and deployed by IT. CIOs have to ensure that these front-line experiences are optimized for customers. To make this happen business and IT teams must work together closely. We all know that better customer experiences lead to better business outcomes. Over half of all CIOs are spending time learning about how better serving customer needs and using the importance of information technology can create new revenue generation opportunities.

What Happens When Business and IT Don’t Collaborate?

In a world where business and IT teams don’t collaborate effectively with each other, investments in new technology and digital experiences don’t get used or they get used poorly, leading to suboptimal outcomes. As the person with the CIO job, it’s your responsibility to ensure that effective communication and collaboration between the departments happens. Without it, what will get produced is something everyone will assume to be great, but it may not be grounded in the realities of your customer’s experience.

IT has been seen as being very complicated and the realm of the back office. Those teams tasked with dealing with customers, such as sales, marketing, and service, didn’t see technology as relevant to their performance and therefore didn’t take the time to develop the skills to understand how technology works and enables their business outcomes. The result of all of this is that many organizations formed bridge organizations staffed with savvy business-technology leaders to “translate” between customer-facing business users and technology teams. Often times these people were called “product managers”.

In order to solve this disconnect, CIOs have to create cross-functional business and technology teams that work together to understand end-user and customer needs and develop relevant and desirable solutions. We have to cut out the middleman and build a direct collaborative relationship between the two teams that are best suited to drive value: the customer-facing end-user community and the technologists.

Moving On

What has happened in the past between these departments impedes collaboration between business and IT teams. The way that things used to work, waterfall or legacy methods of working resulted in long waiting periods between business ideas, funding, IT development, and delivery. We all know that things would change during that time, and what seemed like a great idea 18 months ago, became a suboptimal experience by the time it was released. The memory of these times causes many business users to still feel that IT can’t keep pace with business demands.

All too often business and IT teams are stuck in a vicious cycle. When IT wants to be responsive and nimble, business units don’t believe they’ll get anything past the first release and so they always ask for everything up front. You are likely in a 9- to 12-month development cycle to get all requested functionality developed for release number one… further perpetuating the belief that IT is slow and can’t keep pace. The person in the CIO position can see where this is going: no one can move quickly, everyone remains frustrated, and the cycle continues.

Finding Ways For The Business And IT To Work Together

These days there are two key approaches to inspiring new collaboration between business and IT teams: Clean Slate and Firewall. Here’s how they work.

Inside of your company look for leaders who have illustrated exceptional communication and partnering behaviors in the past and are interested and passionate about their customer. You’ll want to find a leader from one of your business teams with deep customer engagement and field experience, a passion for digital experiences, and a desire to learn, but who has no previous experience working with IT. Having identified them, you then want to pair them with an IT leader who has experience empowering teams. If you give the leaders a clear and concise business goal and provide them with a skilled and enthusiastic team (business and technology domain expertise, coupled with agile delivery approach) then they can be successful. You’ll discover that these two leaders can work together from a clean slate with no prior assumptions or behavior patterns. In the end, their actions and ways of working will spread to their team and serve as an example to all teams of how to work in the digital era of the Customer.

At the same time you’ll want to create a small cross-functional team and firewall them from the normal approach to delivering technology enabled capabilities. You need to give them one new business capability or experience to focus on (make sure it’s important, but not mission-critical), and then remove all of their other tasks and responsibilities. If you can couple this with strong and enabled leaders from business and technology, you’ll need to see how fast they can run with this single capability for a fixed period of time. While doing this, you need to be lean on governance by creating a new set of agreements on how the team will be governed and managed (in other words, take them out of your existing IT governance process). The outcome will allow you to learn what agile practices work in your organization and you’ll begin to show that IT can move at the pace of the customer and business demand. Having done this, don’t stop! You need to firewall more teams, and over time your whole IT organization will evolve to embrace new ways of working while illustrating a new level of partnership with your business partners.

What All Of This Means For You

Your IT teams need to be accountable for business outcomes achieved with transparency and trust. Understand how are they building trust with their stakeholders, and showing transparency with the executive team? How to check to make sure that they are being clear about the potential impact of their work? Your role is to create a culture of innovation where employees at all levels feel empowered to speak up and collaborate.

Studies have shown that only 51% of customers say companies understand their needs and expectations. This means that you should hold your teams accountable to some measure of user adoption. Understand who is the user community and what are they saying? Make sure that they were engaged during the building process. Ensure that your business and IT teams are always working in service of an end-user community of customers.

In the end, this is all about customer-centricity. Both IT and business need to collaborate to create great customer experiences, and they need to understand that they win together or lose together. This is not a competition: the business can’t win if IT loses, and IT can’t win if the business loses. Each department needs to work together because everyone is in the business of making sure the customer wins.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Who should the CIO work with to get the right leaders involved on the business side?

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