Five Keys to Make Your IT Department More Business-Friendly

By Dhar Patadia, CIO, Collabera

There’s a great lesson about collaboration in the 2004 film “Miracle,” which tells the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that shocked the world by winning the gold medal.

Team USA’s coach, Herb Brooks (played by Kurt Russell), carefully chooses his team, and when an assistant questions some of his choices, responds: “I’m not looking for the best players…I’m looking for the right ones.”

Brooks understood how to fit the various pieces and skillsets into a cohesive unit where individuals put aside their personal goals and executed for the good of the team almost flawlessly.

Fast forward to the present day. Collaboration is foremost on the minds of CIOs everywhere. And with good reason: with cost-pressures remaining a constant and the “cycle times” of most businesses ever increasing, the CIO is under increasing pressure to work more effectively with his or her IT department and staff to drive optimal business performance. As organizations mature, IT’s role is transformed from mostly being focused on technology issues to helping to improve business performance. Likewise, the perception of IT as merely a budget line item has shifted to that of a driver of business innovation and in many cases, revenue creation. IT is increasingly being asked not just to support the business but to help accelerate the growth of the business.

For CIOs to succeed in this transformation, they need their IT organization to share their vision and understand the importance of achieving business success.

To that end, here are five keys for CIOs to develop a business-oriented IT department:

  • Establish and sustain a “business-aware” culture in your IT organization: improved collaboration between IT staff and internal customers and departments can be established if the IT staff is fully cognizant of the challenges and opportunities faced by the business.
  • Shift the focus 180-degrees: your IT department should understand the business and IT’s role in creating business value, rather than putting the onus on the company to figure out how IT does its job. It used to be that the IT department was its own silo that only understood the technology side. But now, IT is expected and encouraged to proactively make recommendations that help the business.
  • Hire for a mix of skills: staff your IT department with people that have a good mix of technical and business skills. Hire and train professionals who have the technical skills, of course, but also look for people who can communicate effectively and can understand the business issues and add valuable insight on new ways to do things.
  • Communicate, associate, celebrate and communicate some more: just as your IT staff needs to be aware of the business dynamics, your internal customers and departments should also clearly understand IT’s value. Showcase and celebrate IT teams responsible for projects that have reduced costs, revived flagging initiatives or helped bring in new business. This will clearly send the message that IT is a business partner and its role is crucial. Relatedly, it’s important to communicate closely with remote or virtual teams to ensure that they are getting the right message and understand their role.
  • Measure the success: establish metrics to carefully and consistently measure how IT is driving business performance, and frequently take stock of what’s working and what can be improved. This means focusing on metrics that correlate IT spending with business success. Examples include: Cost savings achieved, Service Level Agreement (SLA) attainments and the benefits derived from new IT initiatives.

Changing IT’s culture to be more collaborative and to become a true business partner can’t be forced from the top-down. It requires a change in mindset and behavior. Focusing on the principles above will put your IT organization on a path to being a powerful transformer for business.

Dhar Patadia is the CIO and co-founder of Collabera, a global leader in IT staffing and services.