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Break Down the IT Silo to Boost Business Performance

Few organizations, if any, inside a corporation can have a bigger impact on overall operating productivity than the IT department. The expertise of IT resources are crucial to lead ‘strategic’ process improvement initiatives to automate inefficient business processes, streamline the integration between business systems both internal and those of suppliers, facilitate access to information to support decision making, enable entirely new methods for reaching and managing customers and more. Successfully executed, any of these IT projects can be the golden egg yielding significant improvements in business productivity

Large ‘strategic’ projects are frequently plagued by ever-changing requirements, budget adjustments and even complete direction changes before they get a chance to demonstrate their value. Frustrated IT leaders and project managers regularly complain about their apparent inability to retain the focus of business leaders on a set of IT priorities long enough to produce the results they initially planned. In a perfect world, for IT managers, budgets would be allocated for well-defined projects and the team would be left to execute until completion.

Unfortunately, that desire for long-term stability in project planning and management does not match the reality of a dynamic and ever-changing business climate. Agile software development methodologies are an attempt by the software development community to deliver product value as rapidly as possible in an environment with changing or uncertain requirements. Sometimes, this approach helps when the business user is actively engaged throughout the development cycle. However, frustrations often grow as projects seem to undergo and endless stream of sprints towards a phantom goal line. The result can be unpredictable results, scheduling and cost overruns.

Ideally, the lines of separation between IT and the business users should be obliterated. It makes no sense for one side to demand agility from the other while remaining rigid itself. Likewise, it makes no sense to allocate funding to projects that may last many months and consume large amounts of expensive IT resources with no clear expectation of the outcome. The result is a massive silo structure with IT withdrawn into a heavily defended bunker to justify its overhead. The walls grow higher and thicker between IT and all of the business organizations and this breeds mistrust, poor communication and massive frustration on both sides.

Business operations fails to get attention from IT on many smaller productivity improvement projects, as IT focuses on defending its crown jewels; the capital intensive ‘strategic’ projects. Meanwhile, IT continues to establish more processes and tools and to allocate more resources to project management, budget and resource management and project stakeholder communication in an attempt to prove its value. All of these efforts only further embed the perception that IT is a bloated, non-responsive overhead that struggles to get anything right.

If the IT organization were viewed as a strategic asset to the business operation that is focused on improving the performance of processes and access to information, then the relationship would be quite different. There can be no silo between IT and business operations if IT is integral and essential to the functioning of the business operations systems. Accomplishing this integration requires a new mindset that first aligns the IT priorities with the business operations priorities. The business operations manager should be accountable for the resources and milestones agreed to with the IT manager. Then, a very close and frequent communications loop must be maintained between the parties to assure that resources and milestones remain aligned as changes occur.

The one thing everyone involved with IT projects can count on is change. Learning to dance together in support of a common business goal in a flexible environment will help to prevent business operations from completely scrambling the IT golden egg that is so vital to the business. It will also prevent the egg from becoming hard-boiled inside its own defensive shell.

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