In both small and medium-sized enterprises, and sometimes even the larger corporates, the run the business (RTB) and change the business (CTB) functions are often merged and managed by the same small team.
In the current economic climate, this is not uncommon; most IT departments have been running ‘lean’ for a number of years already. Although this approach appears to be working, it does present a unique – and often overlooked – challenge for the chief technology officer and those working within the IT department(s).
Make no mistake, in any company within any industry, the CTO role is a difficult one. The role and the list of day-to-day duties continue to evolve at a rapid pace. Examples of a CTO task list today can include: managing contractors and third party service providers, being accountable for global service delivery teams, controlling an extensive budget, overseeing complex IT projects, upgrading legacy systems, legislation, recruitment, disaster recovery, business continuity…the list is endless!
Whilst many CTO’s and IT managers feel their roles are becomingly increasingly more challenging, both their peers – and often the wider business – can have very differing perceptions of the IT function. The views are relatively divided, but generally speaking fall into one of the below categories: –
- The IT function is a business partner – our IT is an effective function, closely aligned with the business goals. The IT team are essential for developing and enabling the overall strategy of our future business
- The IT function is a service partner – they provide a service, with efficient delivery of day-to-day technologies, enabling staff to adequately perform their jobs
- The IT function is a cost centre – IT is an expensive department, sometimes an obstacle which can hinder growth. They are often slow to communicate, with below average service levels
If you fall into the second or third category, please read on…
On the opposite side of the fence, IT can also have pessimistic views of the business: –
- The Business often fail to understand its processes – and its different roles
- Communication is poor, deliverables unclear and goal-posts moved at the 11th hour
- The senior decision-makers never seem to consult with IT, even when making changes that will greatly impact technology services
No matter where you sit within the company, the above issues cause frustration among everyone involved.
So why is it, in a mature 21st Century, that these issues exist? The answer is simple:
The Business does not fully understand the complexities of IT, and IT does not possess the intrinsic knowledge of how the various business functions operate.
This lack of cross-functional misunderstandings is not an intentional one; however, it is creating a costly gulf between the Business and IT. This gap can often lead to disparity and internal divisions, causing invisible “cracks” in the overarching operations of the company.
We must begin to strengthen our working relationships. Seriously!
This futile gulf must be dissolved: having a cohesive Technology and Business team are key drivers of the enterprise’s competitive future. Measures to reduce this gap should be taken by elevating and forging more solid relationships, between the various technology and the business stakeholders.
All function leads must be in mutual agreement, that a culture of greater transparency and knowledge sharing must be encouraged throughout the organisation. Examples of which can be:
- The CTO encourages IT Groups to become more approachable and easier to work with
- The COO explains to the business the value-added services IT can provide, if processes are correctly followed.
- Management allow staff to “shadow” different departments; spending a small portion of time within different areas of the organisation can go a long way
All of these options are relatively ‘quick-wins’, and carry no additional cost.
However, if implementing those changes is not entirely practical, there are other ways to improve the relationships.
Using a Trusted Advisor (TA) is a beneficial alternative. By adding that thin layer in the middle provides a cast that is proficient in both technical and business linguistics. This allows the Business and IT to remain focused with their respective duties, as the TA is acting as an impartial translator between the two, with only the organisations best interests at heart. Using a TA can also add new skills and greater expertise in other areas, which may be absent within the teams as presently constructed.
Though not cheap, a good Trusted Advisor can add immense value to your organisation. Choosing the right TA is key; the market is flooded with poorly managed firms making bold and overly ambitious claims. It goes without saying that thorough due-diligence of any new service provider is absolutely essential.
Aman Sood is an Information Security Consultant at a London-based Global Investment Manager, focusing on cyber security, compliance infrastructure and operational process management.
Aman's previous experience includes; Caxton Associates a global-macro hedge fund, Barclays Capital, and The London Stock Exchange.