5 Questions to Ask About Business-IT Relationships

Within organizations, people in individual roles, middle management, and executives use different types of technologies to accomplish their goals. Depending upon their experiences, the perception/use/biases of technology can range from being a corporate obligation to being the only catalyst for transformative change. The truth is, these two perceptions/uses/biases of technology are extreme. We need a balanced understanding of what can and can’t be accomplished through technology.

In my view, this balanced understanding of technology requires healthy relationships between the Information Technology (IT) Department and the various Business (non-IT) Departments. To achieve this, here are some points to consider:

  • At the inter-departmental level, observe power dynamics and culture
  • At the processes level, observe interactions/overlaps/silos
  • At the people level, observe friendly/adversarial interactions

All healthy relationships require effort by everyone to create and maintain it. Similar is the case for healthy Business-IT relationships. This means that healthy Business-IT relationships shouldn’t be thought of as a one-way IT issue but rather a multiway organizational communications issue wrapped around Discipline, Unity, Empathy, and Trust (DUET).

Discipline

Within departmental boundaries, discipline is created through hiring/firing practices, policies, procedures, rules, and training. Due to the siloed nature of creating discipline, friction may arise when what the Business department desires is at odds with what the IT department is capable of doing. For healthy Business-IT relationships, we need inter and intra-departmental discipline that requires people to:

  • Be aware of their own department’s discipline (or lack thereof)
  • Make no judgments about what business and IT departments are (not) doing
  • Communicate the impacts of business and IT processes on each other

Unity

In order to create unity inside an organization, every department tries to align departmental goals with organizational goals. Sometimes a department’s alignment goals can be in conflict with another department’s alignment goals. This can create an Us vs. Them mentality. For example, in most organizations, the IT department is responsible for cybersecurity, however, there might be occasions when a business department purchases software to improve its own business processes without knowing about the underlying security vulnerabilities of the software. For healthy Business-IT relationships, we need inter and intra-departmental unity that requires people to:

  • Be aware of departmental goals that might affect other departments
  • Make decisions holistically rather than piecemeal
  • Communicate the impacts of unity (or lack of) with each other

Empathy

Often times when we are working in an organization, we are so focused on the tasks at hand that we forget that we have to take into consideration other people’s feelings and thoughts. Empathy makes us more receptive to understanding the visible and invisible pain points. When the IT department is gathering requirements, empathy will help in creating IT systems that people will use and be proud of contributing to. For business departments, empathy can also enhance employee experiences and customer experiences. For healthy Business-IT relationships, we need inter and intra-departmental empathy that requires people to:

  • Be aware of their own and others’ biases
  • Treat everyone with dignity and respect regardless of position/title
  • Communicate pain points without the threat of repercussions

Trust

Without trust, you don’t have an organization, you just have a group of people getting a paycheck. Trust is established at many levels and it is the invisible glue that holds departments together. When an IT department manages software/hardware/IT services/vendors/partners keep in mind they are not doing this in isolation and business departments should reach out to them without hesitation. Similarly, IT departments should trust the business departments when it comes to their processes. IT should not enforce new processes on business departments but rather have a collaborative approach to what can be done to address issues productively. For healthy Business-IT relationships, we need inter and intra-departmental trust that requires people to:

  • Be aware of broken promises at all levels of the departments
  • Understand that trust is about relationship-building
  • Communicate how your trust can be earned/lost

Now that we understand that Business-IT relationships are DUETs, let’s ask a few self-reflecting questions:

Today Tomorrow
Who is responsible for creating healthy Business-IT relationships?Who should be responsible for creating healthy Business-IT relationships?
What communications, processes, and tools are available to encourage healthy Business-IT relationships?What communications, processes, and tools should be available to encourage healthy Business-IT relationships?
Where are the current obstacles to healthy Business-IT relationships?Where would future obstacles diminish healthy Business-IT relationships?
When do healthy Business-IT relationships break down?
When would healthy Business-IT relationships break down?
Why do healthy Business-IT relationships matter for your organization?Why should healthy Business-IT relationships matter for your organization?

It should be noted that creating healthy Business-IT relationships is not the responsibility of the IT Department only. Accounting, Business Development, Customer Service, Finance, Human Resources, Marketing, Operations, Sales, etc. need to develop healthy relationships with the IT Department as well. Bad Business-IT relationships directly result in issues with Business-IT alignment which can make the difference between success and failure.

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