Aligning IT projects with business goals

We’ve all heard the stories of a how a mistranslated word or sentence can have history-changing consequences; did Jimmy Carter really express an interest in getting to know Poland’s “pleasure areas” during a Presidential visit?

Of course not, he was simply keen to experience the delights of the nation – but it served to highlight the importance of sharing a common language or at least hiring a good interpreter.

Business and IT have struggled over the years to establish a lingua franca and to communicate one another’s needs in terms each understands.

When the MD, FD or CEO of a company talks of a ‘successful IT project’, it’s probably different to what the IT Manager would consider a successful IT project.

That is to say, IT as a function will often determine success on an operational level – did the project come in on time, did it overshoot budget and was there only minimal disruption?

And whilst important indicators of competence, these markers do nothing to demonstrate the impact of a project. Impact in terms of gains in:

  • Commercial advantage
  • Compliance and corporate governance
  • Improved productivity and employee engagement
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Sustainability and resilience 

These are just a few of the measurable returns on investment.

These are the true benchmarks that a business, and indeed its IT department, should measure the outcomes of its projects against.

Whilst we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of operational effectiveness – ‘keeping the lights on’ if you will – IT must evaluate, plan and present business cases to the business decision makers in ‘terms that elevate the function as a ‘value add’ contributor and away from the cost centre label of the past.

Consider these two sentences:

“I need to invest £15k to pull out and replace our PBX system and rollout Skype for Business.”

“I’ve done some early analysis and I think I can reduce the number of flights to our Glasgow office by 10% and help us to minimise the number of uncontrolled versions of documents being sent by email.”

Both of these sentences relate to the same project, but which one is likely to receive first attention?

This is obviously a slightly exaggerated version, but the kernel of truth remains.

Of course, this is not simply one-way traffic and it’s clear that business executives are increasingly aware of the need to have technically informed conversations with IT.

At TSG and as Account Directors we empathise, work hard to be bilingual and spend some of our time working with executives and IT specialists in drawing the two worlds together – something we’re aiming to do at our Futuretech events.

With the new generation of products (e.g. Office 365) and the IT function becoming increasingly aware of delivering true business value, we are beginning to speak the same language.

The need to nurture a common understanding is still there, but my role is now more that of advisor and less interpreter.

Just as well when you consider I once ordered a pig with wings at a German restaurant.