This is another post triggered by a reader’s question emailed to me.  Here’s his question (some details have been omitted to preserve anonymity).

I was searching for information around Business-IT engagement but have yet to really come across anything with substance.  I’m looking to better connect with the business unit managers to formulate an IT strategy. The unit managers have a track record of operating in their own silos, often making IT decisions without talking to IT which has ultimately cost the company money.  I was thinking about putting a plan together to engage. Structured via, face-to-face, email, social media, newsletter and even survey. Ultimately, from start to finish, I build the picture and connect and portray the message that IT is an enabler and there is benefit in engaging.  I wondered if you knew of anything which may help me?”

This is an interesting question and a common challenge.

What Do We Mean by Business-IT Engagement?

A little research into the term “Business-IT engagement” found a reference to “Employee Engagement“, which Wikipedia defines as:

An ‘engaged employee’ is one who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about their work, and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization’s interests. According to Scarlett Surveys, ‘Employee Engagement is a measurable degree of an employee’s positive or negative emotional attachment to their job, colleagues and organization that profoundly influences their willingness to learn and perform at work’. Thus engagement is distinctively different from employee satisfaction, motivation and organisational culture.”

I don’t think it’s an unreasonable stretch to derive from this a definition of business-IT engagement:

Business-IT Engagement exists when business unit leaders are fully involved in, and enthusiastic about their IT capabilities, and thus will act in a way that furthers the business value of those capabilities.  Business-IT Engagement is a measurable degree of a business executive’s positive or negative emotional attachment to their IT capabilities, IT colleagues and IT organization that profoundly influences their willingness to participate in the use of IT for business value.”

IT Engagement Model

I also found an IT Engagement Model from our friends at the Center for Information Systems Research:

The IT engagement model is defined as the system of governance mechanisms that brings together key stakeholders to ensure that projects achieve both local and company-wide objectives. The model consists of three general components:

  • Company-wide IT Governance – decision rights and accountability of company level and business unit level stakeholders to define company-wide objectives and encourage desirable behavior in the use of IT
  • Project management – a formalized project management process, with clear deliverables and regular well-defined checkpoints, that encourages disciplined, predicatable behaviour for project teams.
  • Linking mechanisms – processes and decision-making bodies that connect project-level activities to the overall IT governance.

The Linking Mechanisms are further explained in the following graphic:

I find this to be a pretty comprehensive and easily understood way to define some of the major aspects of Business-IT engagement.

Key Business-IT Engagement Factors

The other key factors I pointed my reader to include:

  • The experience your unit managers have with IT – do they trust IT? Has IT served them reliably? Is there transparency into how IT charges?  Is the business value of IT recognized and celebrated?
  • How engaged are business and IT leadership with each other? Does the CIO sit on the Management Committee? Is there an effective business-IT governance board and related processes and structures?
  • The skills of those in the business-IT interface role (Business Relationship Managers, or BRM’s) – how well do they understand the business? Do they have good relationship skills? Are they co-located with the business unit leaders and sit in on business management meetings? Do they perform a business management role, or are they simply seen as technical people taking care of IT?  Are they primarily responsible for Demand Management?

To the balance of his question, I asked:

  • Are you really trying to formulate an IT strategy? Or is it going to be a business-IT strategy. (If I’m a business unit leader, why should I care about or want to be involved in an IT strategy – it sounds rather internal to IT to me, so I’d probably want to stay out of it – I’m busy enough as it is!)
  • Do you really understand the business problems and how IT can contribute to solving them? If you do, what’s the best way to “market” those ideas, and to whom should you be marketing them?
  • What are the cultural norms in the business – do ideas drift down from the top, or do they percolate up from the edges – the ‘front lines’?

Outside-in Versus Inside-out Thinking and Acting

Finally, I was troubled by an aspect of the language my reader used in his question:

I build the picture and connect and portray the message that IT is an enabler and there is benefit in engaging”

This is what I call Inside-out thinking – “We (IT) are good and can help you so you should engage with us!”  I think my reader might be on a better path to engagement if he can identify the specific business issues and needs and communicate how IT might contribute to addressing those issues and needs.

Don’t Engage – Empower!

Just as I was finalizing this post, Zemanta did its usual thing of suggesting links and related articles.  (I really like Zemanta – it’s been one of my little blogging secrets for a while!)  Among its suggestions for articles was Don’t Engage Employees, Empower Them!  I think that is an important dimension to Business-IT engagement – especially in this age of IT consumerization.   Too many IT leaders see there role as ‘protecting the business from the perils of IT.’  Empowering them – for example, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) can be a powerful way of bringing the business into the business-IT dialog and engaging them in strategic and tactical dialog and decision making.

Graphic courtesy of People Insight and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

 

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