The point of the IT department is to help the organization succeed. To do this, we need to understand that organization and the world it operates in. In addition, we must understand technology products, services, and trends enough to know how to apply them to our organization. We must understand the overlap between business and technology. That is where the IT department lives.
While this concept applies to any staff group in an organization, including HR, Finance, etc., let’s look at what this means for IT.
The Business/Technology Venn diagram shows the role the IT department plays in the organization. It is impossible to know everything about either circle. Both have a current state and both are changing.
The IT department sits in the overlap of the two circles. IT is an integral part of the business, and IT lives in the technology world.
IT must understand the needs, wants, and requirements of the business. IT needs to have a strong relationship with the rest of the business. In today’s increasingly computerized world, the impact of technology is so profound that the leader of the IT organization needs to be part of the organization’s strategic team.
Understanding the Business
Consider the top circle. A business doesn’t exist as a single snapshot. An organization of any size is a complex entity with many moving pieces. There are external and internal forces that create constant change. The better we understand these forces, the better decisions we make as the IT leader.
Here are some examples of the external forces that we need to understand:
- What are our competitors doing?
- How is our industry changing?
- How are Customer demands changing?
- How are industry or government regulations changing?
- How is our potential employee base changing? What strengths and expectations will those new employees bring into the company?
- Are the business’ products or services meeting changing Customer demands?
There are also internal forces operating within the organization that we need to be aware of. Here are some examples:
- Are there upcoming organizational changes that will affect how the departments work together?
- How are the financials? Is IT spending helping or hurting?
- What business processes need significant improvement so our organization continues to meet Customer demands?
Understanding the Technology
Now let’s move to the bottom part of the Business/Technology Venn diagram.
Looking at technology, we see again that there are external and internal forces. Let’s look at the external forces first.
- What fundamental shifts are happening? Over the years, we have seen mainframes, departmental computers, personal computers, mobile, and cloud. There will always be one or two major shifts going on.
- What are vendors doing with the products and services we are using? Are they abandoning them? Enhancing them? What acquisitions are they making and how will that impact what we can, or must, buy from them?
- How is a specific product space changing? Are there new ideas or advances influencing the products?
- What new vendors are showing up on the market? How are they different? Are they new companies or existing companies moving into new market spaces?
And here are some examples of internal technology forces:
- What is our application portfolio?
- What applications or versions are obsolete? Which ones are going to be obsolete?
- Which applications are underutilized? Why? Does it matter?
- Which applications have new or additional features that would be useful to our organization?
- Are we paying maintenance for software but not getting our money’s worth?
- If we develop custom software for internal use, what is happening with the development environment?
Understanding the Overlap
Once we have a good handle on the Business and Technology, let’s look at the overlap. The place where the IT department lives.
First, we should understand how well our current technology meets the business expectations and processes. Understanding this gap will point us to the technologies we need to implement or eliminate. For example, an organization that doesn’t have common data definitions needs a different technical solution than an organization that has inefficient processes.
Next, we need to understand how the processes inside our IT department impact the business. If the organization is changing fast, are the IT processes keeping up? Do we have the resources appropriate to the business and is that sufficient to provide the technology and services to the business?
Finally, the IT department is an integral part of the business. If we are doing our job right, they can’t swap out our department for an outside service. There is no other group that can understand the technology and understand how to apply it to the business. The overlap in the diagram represents the value IT brings to the business. We can and should find external resources that know the technology, but we won’t be able to find knowledge about our business externally. We have to know it ourselves.
Header photo by John Bredesen.