How business leaders sabotage IT and what to do about it

How business leaders sabotage IT and what to do about it

As companies digitally transform their operations, the quality of the cooperation and communication between the IT function and the business needs to increase to a whole other level. The organizational integration between the IT function and the business needs to grow much closer. This creates challenges for both business leaders and IT leaders.

“Less discussed is the importance for the business to gain a solid grounding of what the IT function needs and requires in order to do this.”

It is common currency that the IT function needs to become more aware and knowledgeable about the business and the industry in which it operates in order to deliver the functions needed to be competitive. Less discussed is the importance for the business to gain a solid grounding of what the IT function needs and requires in order to do this.

Through surveys of hundreds of IT leaders in large Nordic companies, Waagstein Research has identified three key areas where business leaders can easily, unwittingly trip up and sabotage IT: Resources, Planning and Constraints.

Lack of or wrong resources

The IT function’s ability to provide the services that the business needs to succeed is limited by the resources at its disposal. Business leaders have to create conditions that will enable the IT function to ensure enough and the right type of resources are available to support the business plans. They also need to understand the impact of limited resources on what is possible for the IT function to deliver in a certain time-frame.

Conditions to recruit the right competency

One of the biggest challenges faced by IT leaders when it comes to procuring resources is the conditions for them to recruit the right competency. A big concern for them is their ability to provide enough compensation and benefits to prospective employees in a world where salaries of IT professionals due to scarcity are growing faster than the general inflation. Another one of their oft-mentioned recruitment-related concerns is the ability to present an attractive workplace to potential hires.

As the business leaders are providing the funding for the IT function, they need to reappraise what compensation packages the company needs to offer in order to attract IT talent in an increasingly competitive market. They also need to help create an environment that makes the company an attractive place for them to work.

Lack of understanding of what is possible based on the current resources

A common challenge faced by IT leaders is the lack of understanding among business leaders of what is possible based on the current level of IT resources. The business therefore often places demands on the IT function that are unrealistic based on the level of resources available and those that are needed to carry the project to completion successfully. Business leaders also often lack an understanding of the limitations that the company’s current IT architecture puts on what is possible.

An important reason for unrealistic expectations is that business leaders often simply do not have the necessary knowledge to be able to estimate what resources are required and what time frames are needed to complete a task. Lack of knowledge is also likely the most common reason for them failing to understand how the current IT architecture affects what is possible. However, while necessarily involving highly technical issues, decisions on the IT architecture are something that business leaders need to be involved in as choices made today will limit what is possible in the long-term.

Business leaders need to learn more about IT in order to better understand IT cost drivers and time frames involved and to participate in IT architecture decisions.

Lack of or uncoordinated planning

In order for the IT function to be able to respond to business needs adequately and in a timely manner it needs to be given the opportunity to plan well in advance. But business leaders often fail to create the necessary conditions for IT leaders to do so.

Several issues contribute to making it easier for the IT function to plan long-term. Long-term stability of budgets, a stable organization and early involvement in business strategy planning are some of the most important ones.

The business leaders should work together with the IT function to create the business and IT strategies in tandem to ensure that they are in sync.

The business also needs to become better at long-term prioritizing the development needs – what areas should the IT function focus on in not only the short-term but also coming year or years if possible. As resources are always limited, the IT function needs plenty of time to plan how to deploy these in the best way to support the long-term business goals and strategy.

A common complaint among IT leaders is that business leaders often do not adhere to jointly agreed plans and strategies. Under the day-to-day pressure the business is experiencing they often end up taking actions that stray from these. One such could be procuring IT solutions without involving the IT function. This could for example cause integration problems and support headaches in the future. Another could be not involving the IT function in new decisions which change the nature of the plans and strategies causing the IT and business plans to become misaligned. In order to prevent this the business and IT strategies and plans should continuously be discussed and reviewed together both to remind everyone involved what the cornerstones of them are, but also to agree on necessary adjustments and improvements.

Constraints in processes and organization

Existing business processes and organizational structures are important constraints to digitalization. They can make it impossible or very difficult to make major changes to systems or develop new systems that would be beneficial to the company’s future and to create new opportunities for it.

The business leaders need to be bold and create new digital processes from the ground up instead of just trying to automate existing processes. At the very least, the processes need to be adapted to take better advantage of the opportunities of digitalization.

The business strategy and the business plans also need to be overhauled regularly in order to ensure they properly consider IT opportunities and constraints.