Behind The Anxiety

How disconnected are
you?

It’s not a rhetorical question. This section explores the extent
of the disconnect at your organization. The most harmful part of
the disconnect is that it remained hidden for so long.

I’ll list the most common symptoms
of misalignment between business and IT managers. As you go through
the list, you will no doubt recognize symptoms that have created
difficulties for your  organization. Other symptoms will not
apply. Every organization exhibits the symptoms differently, but
every organization exhibits some symptoms.

Again, lack of alignment between business
and IT in an organization is not a technology problem. It’s a business
problem. Manipulating the IT department will not, by itself, eliminate
the disconnect. Replacing individuals will not, by itself, eliminate
the disconnect. The disconnect is a symptom of a systemic malady
and nothing less than a systemic approach will bear fruit. A rational
business foundation must drive realignment and this sensible foundation
must be sensibly arrived at with the participation of both business
and technical management.

Gauging the extent of
the disconnect:
Before such
a foundation can be mutually developed, it is useful to determine
just how much damage the disconnect has done. It makes sense to
gauge the extent of the disconnect between corporate management
and IT because the solution to the problem must be pegged to its
scope within each organization.

Working together, representatives of
corporate and technical management should come to some level of
understanding about where, specifically, the disconnect has impacted
the organization. They should not be afraid to answer the question:
What have been the specific consequences of the disconnect? It is
vital that everyone in corporate and technical management list all
the misunderstandings, wasted revenue, lost opportunities and unnecessary
expenditures left in its wake. The point is not to assign blame.
Blaming is just another symptom of the disconnect because it causes
participants to cover themselves and snipe at each other instead
of working together for the common good.

How does an organization gauge the
extent of the disconnect? Fortunately or unfortunately, there are
a number of well-established symptoms of organizational disconnect.
Signs that IT is not organizationally aligned with the business
are:
Complaints about Information Technology? Get in line. The more pronounced
the disconnect, the shriller the expressions of dissatisfaction.
Some of the complaints, generally from the end-users theoretically
served by IT, are over deliverables: delays in delivering applications,
the lack of quality or fit of systems and excessive chargeback costs.
Other complaints, generally from senior management, are generic:
Are we getting sufficient return from the costly investment we’re
making in IT?

Senior Management:
What’s the Use? The silence of resignation is deafening. I much
prefer outraged shouting over acquiescence to an intolerable situation.
I have seen too many organizations in which the disconnect is so
complete that no one questions it anymore. In this situation, IT
has won the honor of bringing all planning and implementation of
systems in-house. The role of the browbeaten and resigned senior
management is restricted to signing checks. The technology people
think they have won, but what is it exactly that they have won?
They may, indeed, be the masters of all they survey, but their horizons,
as well as their long-terms prospects, are limited.

Why Worry? I’m Here
for the Paycheck:
The greater
the disconnect, the higher the turnover rate in the IT organization.
IT professionals, like every other member of an organization, want
to participate in charting the enterprise-wide goals of the organization.
To the extent they perceive the disconnect has abolished this opportunity,
they feel disconnected. It is not surprising that most IT groups
display turnover rates in the range of 18 to 33% per year. The enterprise
suffers directly and indirectly: The direct costs of turnover are
expenses associated with recruitment and training. The indirect
costs are less measurable but probably more profound; in companies
with high turnover, people tend toward a destructively short-term
attitude. What are the consequences of decisions made by people
who have a passing through mentality?

Moreover, in IT organizations with
high turnover, the only way to retain good people is to promote
them quickly. Data centers that promote early may arguably be good
for the promote, but from the corporate perspective, late promotion
is a sign of health. Besides low turnover, it means that managers
are well seasoned, can draw on a robust well of institutional memory
and can find precedent for favoring the long-term perspective.

Who’s in Charge Here?
Persistent and heated conflicts
between the traditional IT function and end-user departments over
roles and responsibilities indicate the existence of a fundamental
disconnect. One common pattern in these cases is that a growing
number of end-user departments elect to liberate themselves from
the IT function, preferring to fill their information needs internally
or through contracting with services outside the organization. Another
widespread symptom of ongoing internal conflict is the persistent
attraction that outsourcing part or all of the IT function has among
the organization’s senior managers.

You Go Your Way, I’ll
Go Mine:
Where is the enterprise-wide
vision? In this case, the disconnect has led to the dispersal of
IT to the business units (which may possibly be good), but without
the requisite, high-level coordination (which is indubitably bad).
While the business units in isolation may exhibit a high degree
of IT effectiveness and may prospect from their self-reliance, an
appropriate cross-functional vision and IT architecture do not exist.
An inevitable result of isolation is islands of automation, such
that the systems and applications of one group can neither share
common data nor exchange information with another. Without coordination
at the enterprise level, the outcome is the balkanization of IT
resources, resulting in the inability of the organization to respond
to enterprise-level opportunities.

Department of Redundancy
Department:
Duplication of
effort is another dimension of a lack of enterprise-wide vision.
When multiple groups in an organization embark on IT projects, it
is inevitable that they will independently reproduce similar applications.
The results are unfortunate for two reasons. First, the systems
will almost certainly be incompatible, developed on different hardware
platforms using different architectures. The unnecessary cost of
redundancy can be considerable, the scant reuse of information wasteful.
But more considerable are the opportunity costs of the precious
time squandered by all that parallel development, time that a more
aligned competitor, no doubt, has used to its advantage.

How Can They Do That?
We Couldn’t!
One consequence
of the disconnect is that the organization is unable to focus the
appropriate business and IT resources in a relevant time frame.
And its aligned competitors can. When business unit managers see
their competitors leapfrog over them through the Innovative use
of IT, the disconnect is usually a considerable factor in the equation.

Organizations that align IT with corporate
goals consistently deliver more competitive products and services.
They are quick to market, have lower costs and make the right decisions
most of the time. Relative to disconnected companies, aligned organizations
also:

  • Spend less on consultants.
  • Outsource less often.
  • Are faster to market.
  • Stay more responsive to changing
    conditions.

Well Positioned on the
Bleeding Edge:
If you prepared
a skill-set inventory of the technical professionals in the IT resource
(not a bad idea in any event), what would you find? You would find
a staff positioned and yearning to exploit the latest technologies
and architectures, presumably distributed computing, local area
networks, client-server solutions, and object-oriented programming
techniques, rather than focusing on the needs of the business. The
organization would occupy a well-publicized position on the bleeding
edge of technology, and the IT people would be celebrated as pioneers.
The requirements of the business would take a back seat to a pattern
of technology for technology’s sake.

Excerpted from Techno
Vision II
By CHARLES WANG
Published by McGraw-Hill
Courtesy: Computer Associates

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