One trending phrase for CIOs is digital transformation. While the phrase itself has an easily-discerned meaning (digital technologies are changing the way that businesses operate), it is a superficial simplicity. Since every organization has a unique culture, product, and customer set, the ways and means that those organizations will digitally transform is also unique. In a real sense, digital transformation is less about technology and more about culture change.
Although it steers clear of the trendy buzzwords, this kind of culture change is at the heart of the whitepaper and Society for Information Management presentation by Jason Daube and Matt Lyteson of Red Hat IT.
The practical effect of digital transformation is that IT is no longer a back-office department. IT priorities — and IT challenges — now have a strategic impact on business priorities. WHat Daube and Lyteson outline is a high-level approach to aligning IT objectives with business objectives.
Of course, the whole thing is worth reading. For this post, I just want to touch on the foundational layer that they identify: creating an IT-business partnership.
In older business models, IT priorities run in parallel to larger business initiatives. The IT department is essentially a supporting service. But when the business itself is shifting to incorporate, to some level, digital products and processes, IT moves to the forefront of the business strategy. Or it should.
For that relationship to evolve, the business side needs to trust the IT side as a partner. It really all comes down to trust.
The way that Daube and Lyteson recommend building that trust is by first building an understanding of what the business partner needs and then delivering on it. Like with any relationship, trust comes from open understanding and communication, and Lyteson and Daube have a very practical approach: treat that initial understanding like a form of root cause analysis.
Root cause analysis is a common practice in development and IT departments to break down why something went wrong. (An exercise that I have found really useful is simply asking “why?” five times. “Why did we miss the deadline?” “Component A was late.” “Why was component A late?” and backwards until you hit the root cause.)
Since the goals for building a relationship are more affirmative, the questions don’t focus on past actions, but the current state. Like, how do we behave? What do we do? How do we succeed at it? What is most important right now?
Know Your Priorities
There is a purpose behind the questions to ask (which helps inform what questions you should be asking). The goal is first to identify what your overall business priorities are and then to identify how important each priority is, strategically. You cannot accomplish every priority at the same time, but identify what matters most to your business, and why, will help IT departments prioritize their own projects accordingly. Then, IT is not only serving its own needs; it is directly delivering business value and being more effective and authoritative within the organization.