Aligning business with IT: Practical steps

IT should be perceived by business as a strategic advantage, not a necessary evil

Last week we talked about the need for business to align with IT. That is, it's business' job to start by asking the question, "How can we use technology to deliver products better, faster, more cheaply and more in line with our customers' needs?"

In other words, IT should be perceived by business as a strategic advantage, not a necessary evil. If you're reading this, though, chances are pretty good that you're an IT person rather than a pure business person. So what are the practical steps you and your team can take to encourage the right attitude among your business folk?

    Start with sales. As an IT professional, you should view your discipline as a service that you're trying to "sell" to your customer. Unfortunately, we techies are not only historically poor at sales, we're often constitutionally opposed to what we think of as the "sales mentality" (see my earlier columns for a sample). What to do? Get over it, and learn to sell. Sales can be an honorable discipline (like any other).

    And a good salesperson excels by showing prospective clients the tangible benefits that make their products ideal for the customers. This is a learned skill -- so educate yourself and your team. One savvy IT exec I know sent his entire team to "sales school." That's a great idea -- you should consider doing it yourself. If possible, send them (and you) to a formal sales training program. Miller-Heiman is one of the best, but there are many.

  • Prototype cleverly. One of the sharpest IT execs I know has figured out how to neutralize resistance to IT investment: He creates a compelling prototype, then demos it to company executives to give them a sense of what's possible. That's an excellent approach for certain projects (particularly applications), because most people have a hard time imagining something until they can see and touch it. Even a partial mockup can be infinitely more effective than an abstract sales pitch.
  • Enlist allies. Speaking of sales, your sales organization is a natural ally for IT. Both disciplines have a quantitative mentality, and believe the end result is what matters. That's in contrast to disciplines like marketing and human resources, which necessarily need to focus more heavily on processes and people issues. And the fastest way for IT to have a significant impact is to show the folks in the corner office a concrete way to boost top-line revenues. So line up some sympathetic sales folk, and show them what you can do.
  • Make your case directly. Chances are your company is spending a significant chunk of change on IT. No reasonable business executive should mind a discussion that starts with, "How about we have lunch and discuss whether you're getting the right return on your IT investment, and if not, what we can do about it?"
    • The bottom line: IT's strategic. But it's up to you to prove it to the business.

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