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Make the Business part of your (IT) Business 

Is ‘business’ a capability of your IT organization? Would your business consider IT as a capability – or an obstacle? 

What is a capability? defines capability as “the quality of being capable; capacity; ability.”  Capability is the ability to do something with confidence; having the ability to produce outcomes and results and having confidence that the efforts to produce those outcomes and results will be successful. 

How confident are the members of your IT organization in their interactions with business colleagues?   Do your IT associates understand what the business does?  How confident are you that your IT organization understands the business it serves?  Is IT able to identify technical solutions to meet business needs and build the business case in support of that solution?  

Let’s look at this from the other perspective.  Would your business consider IT to be a core capability of the organization?   This isn’t a question that one typically can “just ask”, but there are some indicators of whether the business considers IT to be a capability of the organization:

  • A defined and published Service Catalog that articulates what IT does in terms of business value and outcomes (not just a listing of products and activities).
  • A defined and actively-used Service Portfolio that is considered as part of the decision-making process regarding business strategy and initiatives.
  • There are active, positive business – IT relationships.  Planning meetings are collaborative activates with participation and representation from both IT and the business – an indicator of an active, positive relationships.
  • A formally defined business relationship management function that proactively seeks to ensure that the business realizes value from its investments in IT.
  • IT has a direct seat at the business strategy planning table. 

If the above indicators are absent, is it because “business” is not a capability of the IT organization?  Could it be because IT lacks business acumen?

What is business acumen? Why is it so critical?

Business acumen is an awareness and quickness in understanding and dealing with business situations in a way that is likely to lead to good results.  It’s about knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your organization and having a sense of how you can contribute to business success. 

Why is business acumen so important for the IT organization?  IT can no longer be just about the “bits and bytes”, but how technology can be exploited for business benefit.  IT having business acumen is a key factor for helping the organization leverage technology as a competitive differentiator. Effective use of technology is critical for modern and progressive businesses, but many businesses lack the confidence in their IT organizations to deliver the outcomes that business needs. 

Having business acumen differentiates an IT organization as a “strategic, integrated partner for business value” rather than being just a technology “order taker”. IT must be able to speak and understand the language of the business.  IT must understand how the business uses technology today and how to best exploit or leverage technology in the future.  A business’ IT organization can truly be both a business enabler and differentiator. 

The business is counting on enablement, innovation, and differentiation from using technology.  The challenge is often that business colleagues struggle to articulate what is needed from the IT organization – they don’t speak “tech” - and become frustrated when IT lacks the business acumen to help guide them to needed solutions.  Many IT organizations exasperate the situation by only being able to think and talk in technology terms. 

Frankly, the technology aspect of IT, while important, can be found nearly anywhere.  The question is where will your organization get its IT? 

The answer is from IT organizations that have business acumen.  

Developing your business acumen

Do you need to develop your business acumen?  Here are some tips for how to start.

Understand the business environment

While it’s important to know, understanding the business environment is more than just “who does what and where are they on the organization chart”.  What products and services are produced by the organization – and who are the customers of these products and services?  Where are the brick-and-mortar locations of the organization?  Does the company have an on-line presence?  How is the company structured?  Is the company a regional, multi-national, or global company?  What is the organizational structure of the company?  Is the organization managed centrally, or are strategies and decisions delegated within the organization?   Who are the key stakeholders and influencers within the organization?

Who is the competition?

If technology is to be a key differentiator and strategic advantage for your organization, you first have to know something about the competition.  There are a few places to get some information about the competition.  Have a look at their website and read industry trade magazines and analyst reports.  Where does the competition excel or have an advantage over your organization?  Where does your organization excel or have an advantage?  How and where could technology have an impact? 

How does IT enable MVG?

When is the last time you reviewed the mission, vision, and goals (MVG) of your organization?  MVG is a great way to understand what is your organization is all about as well as what is valued by the organization.  MVG is also a great conversation starter with colleagues outside of the IT organization to better understand the need or role of technology for achieving business outcomes.  Get your colleague’s views on how current technology helps (or hinders!) the business do its business.  Talk about a new or emerging technology and ask if that technology would be useful to the organization.  Identify where technology could be used differently or in innovative ways to advance areas of the organization. 

Developing business acumen is a key factor for the progressive and engaged IT organization.  Make sure your IT organization is the technology partner of choice for your business by developing your business acumen. 

About the Author

Doug Tedder is the principal consultant of Tedder Consulting LLC, a Service Management and IT Governance consultancy.  Doug is an accomplished and recognized service management leader who is equally adept in interactions from senior leadership to day-to-day practitioners.  His attention to detail, industry knowledge, emotional intelligence, and the ability to “see the big picture” and make it actionable has resulted in a track record of success in helping IT organizations transform into business partners for value delivery.

Doug holds numerous industry certifications in disciplines ranging from ITIL®, COBIT®, Lean IT, DevOps, and others.  

Doug is a frequent speaker and contributor at industry user group meetings, webinars, and national conventions.  Doug also regularly shares his insights and thoughts on service management via his blog.  Follow Doug on Twitter (@dougtedder).

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