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IT and business teams need to work together to deliver on digital transformation initiatives

(Image credit: Image Credit: Konica Minolta Business Solutions UK )

In an ideal world, business requirements should seamlessly translate into strategic plans for the IT teams – with the value that both teams derive from the project perfectly converging. But often, this is not the case, thanks to a plethora of misaligned incentives, including diverging motivations behind adopting new technology, clashing business and IT cycles, as well as an underlying sense of mistrust between the two teams involved. To ensure success from any technology update and digital transformation project, it is imperative for IT teams to include business stakeholders in the conversation from the start. This will enable more agility, better understanding of the end game and the ability to create real impact.

The last ten years have seen an explosion in innovation, with the speed in technology development driving faster business cycles. However, a staggering 84 per cent of digital transformation projects fail to deliver their expected benefits. One of the top reasons cited for this failure is the disconnect between the transformation project and the business strategy it was expected to embody. In other words, the breakdown of communication between business teams who should be driving transformation agendas and the IT teams who actually have to execute them.

Setting the agenda for digital transformation projects

Often, IT teams within companies are driven to undergo digital transformation projects by external factors, including similar projects amongst competitors or the introduction of new technology into the market.

However, for a digital transformation project – or even a singular technology update – to be a success, business teams need to be involved from the get-go. The first thing would be to understand the business issue that needs to be addressed. For instance, an organisation may want to reduce production lead time, increase speed-to-market, and improve the use of data in its global supply chain. After these concrete goals have been established, the IT teams can then decide which digital tools it should adopt to address each of these scenarios. There is no single technology that will deliver speed or innovation as such. The best combination of tools for a given organisation will vary from one business vision to another.

In the retail space for instance, customers are increasingly shopping online or via apps. This has put unprecedented pressure on retailers to invest in the right technologies, while taking a customer-centric approach to design. However, before rushing to upgrade online offerings, it is vital to involve business teams in the conversation. It may be that a retailer’s target consumer base prefers shopping in-store, or they prefer browsing online and then buying in-store – taking these nuances into account can make or break a technology project’s success.

Agility: a common interest with common goals

Traditionally, IT was viewed by business as a cost. As a result, companies outsourced a majority of their IT to get the services required with minimal expenditure. However, in the competitive market of today, IT teams are central not just to the relevance, but the survival of organisations. For companies around the world, agility is now associated with the Silicon Valley mindset of ‘move fast and break things’ – constantly working towards the next innovation or iteration to stay ahead in the game. However, agility can be more accurately described as the convergence of the objectives of business teams and IT teams, aligning what a company ‘needs to do’ and what a company ‘is able to do’.

The method of communication between the two teams also needs to be quick, moving beyond the current channels that involve endless paperwork. This could involve the setting up of regular meetings, using seamless communication channels, or even physically being in the same room when working on a change project.

If an innovation starts and ends in the silo of an IT team, it paves its own way to failure. Adopting an agile approach and mindset across teams – through regular communication, aligned objectives and a dedication to self-improvement – provides a strong foundation for a business to react quickly and flexibly to a new trend or situation, and to keep innovating in the process.

Measure, evaluate, re-think, repeat

Agility and innovation are key priorities for any business – priorities which increasingly rest with the CIO and the IT team. But in order to support the business’ objectives surrounding innovation, it’s crucial that IT leaders develop a deep awareness and understanding of how company culture impacts the effectiveness of technology implementations.

It is next to impossible for this to be done without inviting individuals from the business into conversations. Establishing mutual understanding between teams as a core facet of an organisation’s overall culture is therefore key to optimising its readiness to change. This will help to predict the likelihood of success when deploying new technologies before they are purchased, instead of simply evaluating them based on their ability to provide new ways of doing things, in turn creating tangible impact.

Every organisation innovates to survive, but also survives because of consistent innovation. As the speed of change accelerates, it’s no longer enough for every firm to invest in the latest technology. A systematic approach, with equal input from IT and business stakeholders, is important to ensure successful business transformation.

Rick Clark, Field CTO, Pivotal