Aligning IT Goals With Company Goals

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What would you consider the most important factor in the rise of the IT department as a strategic business partner within most organizations? Would it be technology? What about the role of the CIO? If you picked the latter, you guessed right. How did they do it? By learning to align their department’s strategy with that of the organization.

This month, we’ll walk you through the alignment process to ensure your IT department is in synch with your organization’s strategic objectives. The alignment process ensures success across the organization from the company as a whole to individual departments to your IT teams. It promises that the IT department will become an integral part of the organization whose departments ensure their own success.

From Server Room to Board Room
Alignment begins with ensuring that there is communication of company goals across all levels of the organization. For the IT group, this starts with ensuring that the CIO has a seat at the executive table, where he has input into the development of the organization’s objectives and is familiar with the strategic imperatives of each department. The CIO must ensure that he is not perceived as just the “IT guy” but as a business partner who helps other departments meet their goals.

Overcoming this image and making the shift is easier for some than others. It involves learning a new language, being able to speak in terms of using technology to improve efficiencies, reduce costs and increase productivity. It means understanding how the organization measures success and being able to communicate using a common language.

CIOs must have a clear understanding of which company imperatives have IT dependencies. In most cases, this is going to be self-evident, but what do you do in the case of the marketing department’s objective to outsource e-mail marketing campaigns? As a CIO, you must be willing to see that these imperatives receive the support they need, even if it’s just advice on how to select a vendor. The first step in the alignment process is to match IT resources to company imperatives.

Legitimize IT Business Functions
You wouldn’t buy a car and expect never to have to service it, would you? Some companies make the foolish mistake of investing in technology and not investing in the resources to maintain that technology. These resources are typically human resources that include a help desk, a project management team, network administration staff, development team and quality assurance staff. These are all essential IT business functions required to support healthy business growth. IT support functions demand sufficient budgeting and inclusion in any business plan.

Your organization is dependent on these resources to accomplish the most basic of tasks. Without proper staffing and sufficient training for these functions, an organization stands little hope of accomplishing its objectives, much less its strategic imperatives.

Along with having a human resources strategy, an IT organization must also have a network infrastructure strategy that is designed to minimize downtime and lost productivity. Having a contingency plan or a disaster plan is also a requirement, particularly as the Sept. 11 disasters taught us.

The most effective CIOs are comfortable talking about these budget line items as investments in company growth, not just payroll expenses. They are also willing to discuss the need for these services and their return on investment. It’s their expertise that enables future growth, and their collective experience can and should be leveraged when strategy is on the agenda.

Thus, the second step in the alignment process is to treat IT support resources as a strategic investment.

Setting Your Priorities
Another important component of the IT alignment process is having a clear, well-articulated process for prioritizing initiatives. The prioritization process is a two-sided conversation about how to tie initiatives back to company objectives.

The role of the CIO is to offer advice on how IT products and services can help business units accomplish their goals. It’s a difficult job in the IT organization because you must first understand how these goals fit into the overall strategic goals of the company. You may want to consider a prioritization scheme that looks like Table 1.

Left to their own devices, IT initiatives will always come down to two things: more work than can be accomplished and not enough resources to do it. The trick is figuring how to allocate these resources, which we call a “budget.” It is the CIO’s role to facilitate the prioritization discussion. Establishing an IT steering committee may be one way to get buy-in across the organization. It is a way of viewing all requests against one another, along with their ROI and their alignment with company strategy. The last component is particularly important because a project may have a huge ROI but be misaligned with company strategy.

Another important point about prioritization is to note that business-critical needs supersede high-priority business objectives. What this means is that if you don’t have the resources to get your day-to-day business done, you shouldn’t be focused on strategic imperatives. Stable business applications are essential to stay in business. If the business application is a problem, one of the strategic goals may to replace it. Getting new enhancements or new business applications in place is often a prerequisite to strategic projects.

Thus, the third step in the alignment process is to prioritize all IT initiatives against company goals and objectives.

Communicating Your Alignment
The final step in the alignment process is the communication of goals and initiatives through all levels of the IT organization. This includes company goals, IT goals and IT initiatives.

This step enables another process called “double-loop action.” Double-loop action involves tying IT staff development to business goals. It is a commitment to changing individual behaviors in a way that can positively impact business results. The way to modify these behaviors is through training. By incorporating training objectives that directly tie the company’s strategic initiatives into professional development plans, employees have the opportunity to see how improving their skills can make a difference.

Thus, the fourth and final step in the alignment process is to tie IT staff skill development to IT goals.

There’s no magic to the alignment process. It is just a systematic approach to ensure that you have thought through the business requirements of your organization, have staffed your department to meet those needs and are open to working with other departments in meeting their own objectives. The process is simple and the results impactful.

Paula Moreira is vice president of e-learning for New Horizons Computer Learning Centers Inc., the world’s largest computer training company. Paula is also author of “Ace the IT Resume” and “Ace the IT Job Interview” (McGraw Hill).


Table 1: Prioritization Scheme


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