I recently attended a one day conference in Waterloo, Ontario, called CIO/07 put on by Communitech. The sessions covered a number of different topics, but throughout it all I kept hearing words and phrases such as breaking down silos, collaboration, and working horizontally. No, working horizontally doesn't mean lying down on the job (I can just imagine my husband getting all excited about being able to nap in the middle of the day), but it does mean making sure IT is aware of and involved with what is happening across the company, in other departments. Sharing information is key and silos of information within your company, whether that silo is a department or an individual is not good.
Aligning IT with business initiatives is important for most CIOs and IT managers these days and one of the ways to do this is to create an environment that encourages cross-department communication and the sharing of information. Watching for indicators that this is not happening and then working for change is crucial to achieving and maintaining alignment.
So, how can you tell when IT initiatives are not inline with the direction of the business? When communication has broken down to the point that the needs of the business are not being met? One clear indicator is when alternative IT resources begin popping up. Business units start trying to find ways to work around IT and try to accomplish their tasks despite IT, instead of being successful by partnering with IT. These resources could come in the shape of an outside consultant being brought in or a rogue server being brought online. Another indicator is when the IT department is no longer being consulted or kept in the loop on IT related projects. Initiatives are being executed and things are happening without IT input. The IT department starts being seen as a bottleneck and an obstacle, something to be overcome.
Here are some ways to keep your finger on the pulse of how aligned IT is with the rest of the company:
- Watch for indicators that a business unit isn't satisfied with IT as discussed above. Don't wait for someone to come and tell you. Take action to find out what the problem is and proactively work to align the groups involved.
- Listen to "water cooler" talk and network within your company to find out what's happening in other areas of the organization. Identify a few key people within the company and build relationships with them.
- Become interested and knowledgeable about what goes on in other departments. This will help you to take a more proactive approach to finding solutions instead of just reacting.