When Investing in Tech Projects, Let Business Drive the Bus

By: Alec Talan

There’s a lot of buzz these days about the importance of investing in technology so as not to be on the wrong side of the “digital divide,” but I’ve seen a lot of companies (of all sizes) get it wrong in transformation projects, which are, by their nature, highly-disruptive to Business users. Going digital, at its core, is all about business value, not cutting-edge tech for its own sake. 

When IT focuses too much on all the bells and whistles of fancy applications and new technology without sufficient regard to how well Business will be able to adopt them, then Business teams balk at being told they must use a given new solution, which may not address their primary customer-facing needs.

There’s a balance to be had between the innovation that technology can bring to an organization and the needs of the Business community.

Business and IT are Often Warring Factions

The IT team has, so to speak, two gods to serve on a given transformation project: the Business team, which includes the stakeholders needed to push the solution forward to the second god: the end customers.

Because the Business team is down the hall rather than external to the company it’s often not seen for what it is in this situation: an internal customer. And if the Business is not treated with the appropriate reverence and respect that an external customer would be, that’s where things can start to fall apart.

Technology projects must serve both primary customers: the Business team and external customers. Those customer needs should be front and center, but often they are not, and so you end up with a fancy technological solution that no one needs or wants.

How Can They Play Nicely Together?

It starts with IT and Business breaking out of their silos and realizing they need to work together for the greater good of the organization. There’s no “winner” when it comes to good decision-making, but there sure are a lot of “losers” if the decisions turn out to be wrong. To avoid misaligned outcomes, and to keep business adoption going smoothly, it’s a good idea to empower the Business to be in the “driver’s seat” for a technology transformation. This way, the business community doesn’t feel like the IT team is forcing technology down everyone’s throat.

Beyond that, here are a few ways to invest in technology with Business driving the project.

1. Business Leadership Must Lead the Technology Initiative

Nothing sticks if upper management doesn’t give its enthusiastic seal of approval for any major transformation, and that’s especially important if there is a chance that IT and Business will have differing objectives. For example, IT may be seeking to reduce its overall spend and streamline delivery of technology services, but Business may be seeking faster operations without regard to technical efficiencies or cost optimization. Leaders need to understand Business’ priorities and craft the technology transformation in a manner that supports those internal customer needs. 

2. Integrate Both Teams Throughout The Project 

On a digital transformation, functional and technical silos must disappear. Both Business and IT must be involved in strategy and planning early on, and when IT begins to drive the technical work components, Business must at the same time begin to drive business readiness activities to prepare to do things in a new way. 

But it’s imperative that the two continually work together and communicate on where a project is, how the technical solution is progressing, and how Business change impacts are being mitigated. One small tweak by IT could render the solution useless to the Business if there’s no alignment about that seemingly insignificant change. And without letting IT know in advance, one new business process or new product can make the existing technical template no longer suitable. 

Design and solution fit has to be an iterative ongoing process so that what is ultimately delivered meets the needs of the organization at project go-live, rather than its old needs back during project kick-off. 

3. Get Away from Piecemeal Thinking

Sometimes IT projects are simply a means to fix what’s broken without thinking ahead to the long-term. That’s where Business can come in to help strategize technology projects so that they fit together with the larger strategy and aren’t just an expensive Band-Aid.

4. Ask the Right Questions (on Both Sides)

It’s easy to make assumptions (and you know what doing so does of you and me), but it’s better to ask questions that lead to a solution that advances the enterprise goal of better meeting customer needs.

IT should ask Business:

  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • Why is that the problem?
  • How will you measure success?

Business should ask IT:

  • How will this solution fit into the larger Business strategy long-term?
  • How will it integrate with the tools and processes we are already using?
  • How will it handle changes and the evolution of customer and market needs?

Yes, investing in technology is essential if you want to compete in your industry. But Business should be leading digital initiatives to ensure that a technology transformation meets key business objectives and aligns with the overall business strategy.