How to align your technology and business strategy

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Even businesses that have been slow on the uptake of digital technology have now, by necessity, accelerated their digital transformation programmes, and are looking at how they can get the new remote working technology into lockstep with the business.

When IT and business are not aligned, inefficiencies, and unnecessary cost and risk creep into the organisation. And while you’re trying to put out these fires, your business is falling behind and losing its competitive edge. This is something that no business can afford in a time of uncertainty. That’s because IT no longer just supports the business, like it did in the past. It now enables business at a time when processes need to be digital if the business is to keep operating throughout a national shutdown.

When IT understands the business needs and goals, it can help you to respond to constant change, while boosting productivity, creativity, revenue, and customer satisfaction.

Deciphering the disconnect

Before we look at how you can start to align your business and IT strategies, it helps to understand what causes misalignment in the first place.

A disconnect between business and technology usually happens if:

• Management doesn’t understand the value that IT brings to the business,
• IT doesn’t understand what matters to the business,
• IT and business decisions are made separately, or
• There’s resistance to technology change within the organisation.

Organisations have developed high expectations of their technology. They want it to reduce costs, improve efficiencies and productivity, and enhance workflows, processes, and communication. But this is only possible if all aspects of the business are working towards the same goals.

Strengthen the IT-business connection

Your internal and external ecosystems are always in flux. Customers and employee expectations will shift, and you’ll face increasing pressure to adapt to changing competitive and economic landscapes.

This can cause misalignment between the business and IT strategies. Therefore, your technology environment should be flexible, to evolve with the business; agile, to support changes in circumstances; and scalable, to cope with increased demand, more staff, or new markets.

Getting to this point is a process. Business-IT alignment happens in stages that play out in a continuous loop.

Step 1: Identify your goals
This is the most important stage, so take your time. Even if the COVID-19 outbreak has forced you to fast-track digitisation of your processes to support remote customers and team members, look at ways to drive sustainable and strategic change into the future.

Be clear on what your business goals are. Do you want more revenue? More customers? Are you launching a new product or expanding into a new market?

Your technology should make it easier to achieve these goals. If it doesn’t, look for the gaps. Identify the business needs that require IT enablement and translate those into measurable IT services, for example, marketing automation services to go after new leads.

Open the communication channels between business and technology executives, to ensure that every IT decision supports your goals and closes the gaps.

If you want to shift colleagues towards remote working, for example, you should look at the tasks you want them to do and how you will manage processes and people in this new paradigm.

From there, you can look at the tools your employees will need, from mobile data SIMs to mobile devices to collaborative solutions like Microsoft Teams or Slack.

Step 2: Allocate your resources
Next, decide what resources you need. Map your assets, processes, and infrastructure to the IT services you identified in Step 1, and reallocate or procure critical resources, if necessary.

In this stage, you’re figuring out how to build your IT capability so that it can support your business goals.

Ask your people – from juniors to managers – for their input on where they believe technology can help them boost efficiencies and move the business forward, faster.

Step 3: Create an IT roadmap
Now that you know what resources you have and what you need, arrange them in order of priority. If your goal is to increase revenue, a cloud accounting solution can help you to stay on top of your finances and identify opportunities to grow revenue.
In this stage, set budgets and create roadmaps for successful IT implementation and integration. Note the steps, deliverables, timelines, and accountability, to keep everyone on track.

Step 4: Monitor your progress
Monitor your IT services to ensure they’re still supporting business goals. Identify opportunities to optimise your infrastructure and processes, like automating HR and payroll to focus on team engagement and motivation.

Figure out how best to prioritise and respond to requests, issues, and risks, while maximising resources.

Step 5: Measure and respond
Business goals change all the time. This quarter, you might want to simply keep the lights on throughout the national shutdown. Next quarter, you may want to increase sales to existing customers. This is why quarterly reviews of your IT-business alignment is crucial.

If your business objectives are still being met and you’re making good progress on your goals, great. Report on the benefits and keep going. If misalignment has crept in, or your goals have changed, make the necessary adjustments, go back to Stage 2, and continue the process.

Align for better ROI

For now, an IT strategy that enables you to work productively and relatively smoothly throughout a time of turmoil could be the key to your business’ survival. But once the worst of the pandemic is behind us, IT is a lever to drive your business’s growth. The faster you can map your technology to your goals, and the faster you identify and fix problems, the better return you’ll get on your technology investment, now and in future.

Think about what alignment can mean for your business and start making the necessary changes. And, if you’re not sure where to start, speak to a business analyst to help you to focus on the things you care most about.

This article first appeared in the June/July issue of Your Business Magazine. Read the free issue online or download.

Gerhard HartmanGerhard Hartman, Vice President, Medium Business, Sage Africa & Middle East.

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