Understanding the True Role of the IT Department
I’m an IT consultant, which means I work with organizations to improve how their technology functions. Early in a consulting discussion, I ask a simple question: Does your IT planning align with your business strategy?
What answers do I hear?
We don’t have a plan.
We just buy stuff when it breaks.
I buy new laptops every three years, so we’re good.
Many organizations cannot articulate how IT planning aligns with their business strategy. Why? Because it doesn’t. This stems from a general misunderstanding of the true role of the IT department.
The True Role of the IT Department
The true role of the IT department is to facilitate business requirements by implementing and supporting applications that both meet functional business needs and fit within the larger IT ecosystem.
In other words, the IT department’s job is to make business goals a reality.
Sometimes, the IT department is seen as the ivory tower. Secluded, separate, not to be bothered. Other times, they’re seen as the dumping ground for fixing all sources of technical problems, from servers to toaster ovens.
Neither of these represent the true role of the IT department.
Your IT team needs a seat at the table when business strategy and planning discussions are taking place. Not after they take place, but when decisions are being made.
Does Your IT Team Have a Seat at the Table?
Business strategy and decision-making decisions often go something like this:
First, business leaders decide, let’s say, that they want to make sure they have good backups off-site, so that they can recover from a disaster. They then ask the IT department to implement the change.
The IT department agrees, but to do it right, they have questions: How often does the backup need to run? How long do we need to retain the data? How long can we afford to be down if we need to restore systems from backup?
The business leaders say they can’t afford one minute of downtime. Systems should never be down.
IT advises that to achieve zero down time will cost sky-high prices.
The business leaders don’t like sky-high prices.
IT then asks whether they can modify the recovery time objective or other data backup considerations, to bring down prices.
That’s a lot of back and forth, with the IT department being brought in after goals have already been set.
I compare this back-and-forth relationship to a home remodel. The homeowner has a certain vision for their remodel. Typically, they wouldn't ask a contractor for advice while daydreaming that vision. But that vision goes through changes after the contractor enters. They bring a dose of reality. Those pillars the homeowner didn’t want? They turn out to be needed structural support. The timeline the homeowner was envisioning? Not possible with winter just around the corner.
A Dose of Technical Reality
The IT department needs to be part of the discussion when business strategy goals are being put in place. That’s the time for the IT team to speak up and say, Well, wait a minute, you can’t do that. That wall can’t go there. This system can’t be moved over in three weeks. It’ll take more like six months.
The IT department are the people thinking: How are we going to get this done?
The IT department’s role is to bring a dose of reality to your business strategy, and then to make it happen (within reason). Their responsibility is to advise what you can do, what you can’t do and options for doing it. Once you agree on what you want to do and what fits the budget, then the IT team must put the solution in place and manage it.
If leadership plans business strategy without IT expertise represented in the room, that dose of reality is missing.
The IT Department Should Not Be an Ivory Tower
There needs to be a balance between business leadership and the IT department. Neither can operate in a vacuum. Both need to collaborate to make good decisions.
It’s a partnership.
One more important note: Often, the role of clearly articulating business requirements and determining how systems should work within respective departments is inappropriately handed to the IT team.
Instead, business leaders need to take an active role in identifying what they need. Sometimes, they expect IT professionals to do this.
The IT department should not be making these decisions alone. Business leaders and/or business units should be making these decisions in partnership with the IT department.
Are You Making Decisions with the IT Team in the Room?
I hear from business leaders all the time: IT isn’t doing what we need them to do.
I also hear IT teams say: We weren’t part of the conversation early enough.
Part of my role as an IT consultant is to help organizations improve communication and understanding of business goals. This can lead to difficult, but needed, conversations. When needs are communicated effectively, better solutions can be achieved. Loffler helps organizations navigate these conversations by providing CIO Services. Learn more here.
Read More: What to Expect from an IT Assessment
Chad is an IT Strategy Consultant at Loffler Companies. He has worked in the IT industry for over 25 years, spending 15 of those years in IT consulting. He owned his own IT services company specializing in managed services, small business projects, professional services, IT strategy and planning before coming to Loffler in 2012. Chad has worked with many companies to develop their IT lifecycle and specializes in strategic planning and tactical implementation. In his free time, Chad enjoys traveling with his wife and two sons, playing tennis and reading nonfiction and history books.