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Is there any such thing as ‘The Business’?

IT as matchmaker, referee and policeman

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Reader Workshop A seasoned CIO of a large multinational once remarked: “All of these vendors keep telling me that IT must be aligned with the needs of ‘the business’, as if I just had one customer.

"The reality is that I am constantly refereeing in squabbles over budgets, resources and priorities between the heads of the eight divisions I support, and I know that within each of those divisions, people are squabbling at the next level down too. My problem is not aligning what I do with the business, but getting those in the businesses to align themselves with each other.”

While this CIO and his company will remain nameless for obvious reasons, the point being made is a good one. All IT departments have to keep a sharp eye on ensuring the business relevance of what they do, but with the diverse and often politically driven business landscape that often exists, keeping multiple stakeholders happy on the user side of the house can be a serious challenge.

The issues associated with this crop up in different ways. With more strategic IT investments, eg an ERP or CRM system implementation or upgrade that will impact a number of departments, there is typically a need to drive consensus across organisational boundaries among people who care about different things and whose performance is measured in different ways.

This can even be a problem in a smaller company, where resolving differences between Joyce in Accounts, Mick in Sales and Pauline in Customer Services can, in relative terms, sometimes be as difficult as trying to get multiple empires to play together nicely in a larger environment.

With departmental or workgroup level systems things can appear a lot more straightforward. After all, IT is probably only tasked with meeting the needs of one part of the business, under a single management jurisdiction. But so much of the research carried out by Freeform Dynamics via The Register and by other means highlights one factor that is, in one way or another, the cause of so many problems. We are talking here about fragmentation.

Whether in the form of systems, information, process or policy disjoints, fragmentation leads to risk, cost and general inefficiency, and the good old departmental point solution is one of the main culprits in this area. Even when dealing with the requirements of discrete groups within the business, there is therefore a need to consider how new or updated capability will work in the context of the overall landscape.

Of course the real cost and risk occurs when departments, workgroups and even individual users make their own decisions and investments without thinking about the bigger picture, the longer term, or the impact in terms of security, compliance, resilience, support, maintenance and so on.

This is not a new challenge, but the ease with which online services can now be provisioned for business use is adding to the complexity that needs to be monitored, managed and, when push comes to shove, often supported by IT.

So what’s the answer? How does IT help to make sure technology related spend is appropriate to meet broader as well as more ‘selfish’ needs within the business community?

A phrase being used more and more in this context is ‘IT governance’, which is a fancy way of referring to policy and process that in itself is designed to make sure that IT expenditure and activity is managed according to genuine business priorities, taking into account the relative cost, risk and value associated with each proposed project or initiative, and approving or rejecting them on an objective and collective basis. Apart from triaging requests from the business camp, investments originating from the IT department can be put through the same mill.

But the devil is in the detail when comes to harmonious decision-making in relation to IT, especially where core application implementations, upgrades and extensions are concerned. The reality is that in all but the smallest of organisations, ‘the business’ is not a single entity and the complexity of keeping multiple stakeholders happy is an ongoing challenge.

So we're interested in your experiences. Do you have an over-arching ‘governance’ approach, for example? And whether you do or not, how do you make sure everyone’s needs and wants are catered for on projects like those concerned with ERP and CRM that cut across the organisation? Is it a case of those who shout the loudest or have the most political clout always get their way?

Perhaps you have some tips and tricks for creating harmony on projects, or even some horror stories and lessons learned from when things have gone badly wrong. Tell us your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below. ®

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