Aligning IT with the Business seminar
On 19th October 2017 Sysop hosted an “Aligning IT with the Business” seminar. The event was attended by 14 people representing 8 organisations across a mixture of the public and private sector.
Business and IT Alignment has been the number one priority for CIOs for 4 years running. It is clear going off the initial input from the delegates on the seminar that progress is being made but there is some way to go here. The group were asked how they would describe the alignment of IT Services with Business Strategy in their organisation.
Here is a summary of the responses:
- Inconsistent overall, some departments work well with ICT but this results in “siloed” alignment & unevenness across the board.
- This is an ongoing initiative across the last 2-3 years.
- Appointed Account Managers and Business Development teams to support this.
- Some areas are more mature than others – key business units are aligned with IT. Formal stakeholder engagement policy launched this year.
- We are moving towards a converged strategy.
- Challenging – the business has a number of meetings to cover the subject but we do not share sufficient information (in both directions) for this to be properly aligned.
- As a managed service provider, the BRM is more relevant.
- We are introducing business capability modelling.
- It can be problematic due to being a local authority with changing priorities.
- Needs improving from both sides. IT needs to make better use of the opportunities to discuss and share strategies with the wider business.
This feedback comes as no surprise given the delegates interest in the main topic of the day.
Further probing into how effective the IT Organisation is at meeting the needs of the business identified some interesting points:
|How would you describe your IT Organisations effectiveness at meeting the needs of your business? (Tick all that apply)|
|There is IT representation on the “top table” of the Business.||57%|
|We have initiatives in place to improve the relationship between the Business and IT.||50%|
|Our IT Strategy is aligned with that of the Business.||43%|
|It is a challenge to get Business buy-in to IT improvement initiatives to better meet their needs.||43%|
|As an IT Organisation we do what we believe the Business expects||36%|
|Digital Transformation is formerly cited as helping shape the future of the Business.||36%|
|Our organisation see IT as a strategic business partner – an enabler for business.||21%|
|We have effective communication between IT and the Business with the ability to identify customer needs and/or demonstrate value of IT services.||21%|
|We have clearly defined BRM roles to maintain an interface between the Business and IT.||21%|
|We can quantify the value provided by the IT Organisation to the Business.||0%|
Only half of the candidates believed that their organisation was taking steps to improve the relationship between Business and IT and less than that considered that the IT Strategy was aligned to that of the Business. If there isn’t alignment between the strategies and no real initiative to improve the relationship then where is the appetite for innovation and digital transformation?
Further responses also indicate a disconnect with regards to the potential IT has in driving the businesses forward – lack of buy-in for improvement initiatives, IT not seen as a strategic business partner and an inability to identify customer needs.
The Business Relationship Manager role is growing in importance to address many of these issues but yet only 21% of the respondent’s organisations have clearly defined BRM roles.
Perhaps much of this mis-alignment is understandable when you realise that none of the delegates felt that the value provided by IT can be quantified or demonstrated. If IT isn’t able to clearly articulate the value it provides and the potential value it can bring then the business will never see them as a strategic partner.
The group were then asked what challenges are facing IT in Aligning to the needs of the business. A summary of their responses was as follows:
- Keeping pace with change:
- Customer Behaviour
- Process Alignment
- Being Agile in a Controlled way
- Competing Forces
- Business As Usual versus New projects
- IT should “Just do it”
- New ideas
- Lack of understanding of business problems
- Throttling the demand pipeline.
- Risk Management
- BRM versus Stakeholder Management
The group were then introduced to the Business Simulation – “Grab@Pizza” provided and delivered by Paul Wilkinson from GamingWorks. Paul introduced the session by stating “70% of the IT departments are unable to demonstrate value to their business.” – this is in perfect alignment with the delegates responses of the day with regards to quantifying value to the business.
The group were randomly allocated roles in supporting a successful pizza franchise “Grab@Pizza”. Sales figures for the previous 6 months had been below expectations and the group were tasked with implementing a recovery plan. This plan was dependant on understanding business demands, translating them to IT strategy and organisation of IT Support, IT Operations and Change Management.
An initial round of planning and then implementation of the strategy began with the group uncoached on how best to align the IT services to the Business demands. Without this guidance then a lot went wrong (feedback captured from the delegates):
- Manic – pulled from all angles
- Lack of role clarity and authority
- No Interface
- No Governance
- IT – no understanding of business impact and priority
- IT & Business – Alignment needed
- IT role clarity needed. What is difference between BRM and Service Manager
Paul led a facilitated session to improve business and IT alignment and resolve these issues as they prepared for the next round.
Improvement focus was given to Value Leakage & the role of Business Relationship Management.
Specifically, this broke down to a number of areas:
- By refreshing the ITIL definition of a service, the key characteristics of Value, Outcome, Costs & Risks could be considered at the centre of all activity.
- Push back
- It is generally accepted that the business does place unreasonable demand on IT at times but by speaking in the terms of VOCR will empower IT to have sensible conversations with the business when prioritising workload.
- This dialogue will help the business also understand the need for effective strategic prioritization and decision making when there is strong demand and resource constraints (IT Governance).
- The BRM can help translate business needs into VOCR and together with Service Manager translate this into ITSM capabilities, at the same time the BRM can translate IT and ITSM concerns and needs for the business.
- Effective BRMs can help provide input to help Resource Planning and identify skills needs.
- IT processes were operating in SILO’s and were not aligned or integrated which is what many delegates recognized. The team explored the interfaces needed between ITSM processes.
- We explore the needs of Incident management. What information do you NEED for effective resource planning, to identify skills needs and to prioritize work?
- Trends on calls (growth per type)
- Projected calls (based upon new business features and usage)
- Business planning (what new business features are in the pipeline, have users been effectively trained)
- Priority & impact of outages (per business unit & critical time periods)
- Changes carried out and level of testing
- Changes NOT carried out. E.g capacity issues, problems (these will maintain or increase these types of incidents).
- Infrastructure upgrades
It was clear that processes can only be effective and deliver real Value when ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ information needs are aligned. Many of the business related information needs can be provided by BRM.
By applying this thinking into the planning phase for the next round then the group were much more successful with meeting the needs of the business and delivering a better overall performance. Financial growth targets were achieved, share price increased, there were no damaging articles in the papers affecting image and losing customers and new franchises. The team was thinking in terms of ‘business impact’ rather than servers, systems, upgrades and incidents.
The takeaways captured by the individuals at the end of the round demonstrate how the learning performance and indeed addressed many of the challenges identified at the start of the day.
- It is important to know the strategy and the portfolio of business changes (SPM)
- There needs to be effective priority & decision-making mechanisms at all levels
- Strategic (Portfolio of business features, risk and compliance)
- Tactical (Prioritisation of builds, releases, changes)
- Operational (prioritization of incidents and problems)
- We need to ask upstream and downstream to other processes and teams ‘what do you NEED from me to get your job done….This is what I NEED from you’.
- Authority (It must be clear where decision making authority lies)
- Business impact (All in IT must understand the impact of their work in terms of value creation and Value leakage. This helps answer the ‘Why’? question.
- There doesn’t need to be a CAB meeting, there needs to be the right people engaged and involved to determine impact and to agree and authorize changes,
- When the business has a high demand for new IT (across all business functions) we need to scale up the BRM capability.
- Open honest communication between business & IT
- Share Plans
- Ask Why?
- Give honest feedback
- Role clarity with clear lines of communication (in Both Business & IT).
- Asking questions, seek clarity, confirm understanding. Avoid assumptions!
- Translate Capacity growth/issues into Business Terms
- ‘value’, ‘Outcomes’, ‘Costs’, ‘Risks’. All must understand and use these terms to help balance decision making and allocating resources.
- Use Business Language not IT terminology when discussing with the business
- Reserve time (even in regular meetings) to reflect and agree improvements.
- Break down silos – ensure end to end service
Thinking from the “Outside-In”
Ian MacDonald was able to bring his great experience to the seminar and explore Service Strategy from different perspectives Inside-Out and Outside-In. In summary, it is common for IT Organisations to be inwardly looking out to the business with a focus on the internal view of services. Measurements and metrics are technology focussed – e.g. percentage availability of servers. By developing an Outside-In perspective with a focus on customer needs helps to ensure services better meet the needs of the business with key metrics being more relevant to the business.
The Foundation for Convergence
Next, Simon Kent from Sollertis explored IT & Business Alignment “convergence”, Digital Transformation, and the BRM Institute qualifications. Business Relationship Management plays a key part in delivering digital transformation and as a profession is increasing in demand. Professional certification through the BRM Professional qualification provides an individual with a baseline of knowledge of the responsibilities required to be an effective interface between the Business and IT.
The seminar was a great success, best demonstrated by some of the comments from the delegates:
“Grab@Pizza was a good interactive session that showed rather than told.”
“A day well spent!”
“A useful and thought-provoking seminar providing a useful vision of the needs and requirements to overcome common business operation.”
“So many courses omit the practical application of theories and/or best practice. This course was the opposite and Grab@Pizza was a fantastic experience.”
The day’s outputs really demonstrated the importance of value in building a trust relationship between IT and the Business. This is unlikely to be achieved overnight but will be eventually achieved with incremental steps in the right direction could lead to a “Domino” effect (no apologies for the Pizza pun)!
Developing a greater understanding of value from the business perspective is key to working towards meeting their needs. If this value cannot be demonstrated by IT then it is no wonder that IT is not seen as a Strategic Business Partner. Digital Transformation alludes to technology being the driving force behind business growth but this potential can only be realised once true value is understood.
Unexpected business requirements come along that impact IT and change the order of priorities. The bad news is that this problem is unlikely to change, changing requirements come from the business and IT does need to adapt. However, by having a true grasp of value then a trust relationship can develop that would enable the business and IT to have a sensible discussion about resource planning. Talking in a language the business understands would encourage them to decide what can be dropped and/or what timescales can be relaxed elsewhere to cope with changing business needs.
The Grab@Pizza simulation used on the day clearly demonstrates the key components needed to bridge the Business and IT gap. With this alignment being such a priority for today’s CIO then the simulation is a great way for IT to open up dialogue with the business and demonstrate the appetite to understand value. IT Services can then be structured in an optimised way to best meet these needs leading to better support from the business and an improved overall relationship.
Business Relationship Management
The role of BRM is key to helping with Business & IT Alignment and is unfortunately one of the most over-looked processes in the ITIL framework. The BRM Institute have formed to address this situation. Their Mission is as follows:
“To inspire, promote, and develop excellence in Business Relationship Management across the globe, leading to outstanding business value for organizations and professional fulfilment of every individual member of the BRM community.”
The Business Relationship Management Professional (BRMP®) qualification provides a comprehensive foundation for Business Relationship Managers at each level of experience. As a Registered Education Partner of the BRM Institute Sysop offer this training from our public locations or as an onsite course.
Sysop are grateful for all the participants for their contribution throughout the day. A special thanks to Paul Wilkinson from GamingWorks for delivering the Grab@Pizza simulation and Ian MacDonald (SYSOP) and Simon Kent (Sollertis) for their contributions on a very valuable day.
ITIL® is a registered trademark of AXELOS Limited, used under permission of AXELOS Limited. All rights reserved.
BRMP® is a Registered Trade Mark of Business Relationship Management Institute, Inc.