Getting to trusted partner status
The relationship with the business has always been a key focus area for CIO’s, but it’s never been easy, and it’s getting harder. Doing more with less has always been part of the job, but an ever tighter integration of technology into every aspect of a business has meant that managing the business’s perception of IT is key to a CIO’s survival. When you hear the phrase. “Lack of commercial focus in IT”, it’s time to look at the job ads.
And yet….. there’s practically no guidance on the subject. If you read a manual on any of the major “silver bullet” methodologies such as Agile, Prince or ITIL, they all seem to assume that the methodology has no relationship with a business. There is practically no guidance on how to flex the implementation in order to serve a business with a particular size, organisation structure or culture. And yet, I know from bitter experience that a technically correct methodology implementation that works perfectly in one company will fail utterly in another.
So, what are the key points to look at? I’ve found the McKinsey 7S model a great place to start. This is a simple template that offers up 7 areas to probe. It was originally developed to help a large business integrate an acquisition, but it works well to review the relationship between IT and the business. The seven areas are:
- Shared Values
These are simply starting points for a conversation, and whilst I have developed simple tests in each area, any experienced CIO could develop their own. For example in the “Structure” category, putting the business org chart alongside the IT org chart can be very illuminating. Where are the touchpoints and communication channels? Are they one to one, or one to many? Are there areas where information needs to flow freely, but there is no obvious people based route for it to do so? Similar tests will spring to mind for the other areas, (if they don’t I am happy to share the ones I use) and a relatively lightweight initiative (20-30 effort days) can give you a very illuminating heat map of where you are, and aren’t aligned.
Most CIO’s spend practically no time on this area. There are the 400 daily emails to deal with, today’s crisis, the latest new Powerpoint deck that some manager in group needs and, of course the ever present needs of those three horsemen of the apocalypse; compliance, information governance and risk. Alignment with the business is intangible, it doesn’t mean your systems will go down, and it’s rare for someone from the business to moan about it to your face. However, I estimate that it accounts for at least half of non-voluntary CIO exits. You should be spending time on this. At least 30% of your time. Otherwise the department you run will slowly become a disrespected and disconnected outpost which is regarded as a supplier to be kicked, rather than a partner to be engaged.