Business and IT Alignment

Danny Ryan:Hello this is Danny Ryan and welcome to the ThreeWill podcast. I’m your host today and I am here with Bruce Harple. How are you doing Bruce?


Bruce Harple:Hey I’m doing good Danny. Glad to be here.


Danny Ryan:Welcome to Atlanta.


Bruce Harple:Yeah always good to be back.


Danny Ryan:Yeah nice to have you here. So we’ve got a great topic that you’re going to be covering today and look forward to talking with you about that. And it has to do with … some of our projects we work with IT, some of the projects we work with business. So I’m looking forward to learning more about how you keep those two bodies aligned so …


Bruce Harple:Yeah it’s a big one and that’s kind of my theme is really kind of that business and IT alignment and really kind of how does that impact us-


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:-right as a professional services firm you’re kinda going into a customer and building and deploying solutions.


Danny Ryan:Yeah.


Bruce Harple:So … Cool let’s get it started. Yeah so let’s do this. So we’ll like of start it at the basics right. So just to kind of throw out some definitions of what it means when we say business and IT alignment.


Danny Ryan:Sure.


Bruce Harple:Cause it can be a lot of things to a lot of different people. So I’ll kind of start with the Wikipedia definition. Well it describes it as, “The alignment as a dynamic state in which a business organization is able to use information technology effectively to achieve business objectives typically improved financial performance or marketplace competitiveness”. Right so that’s really kind of really strategic right.


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:And yeah other definitions really talk about that alignment really creating value but value that’s measurable. And a lot of times it does get tied back in kind of a financial outcome of some kind.


Danny Ryan:Yep.


Bruce Harple:Right it’s either driving revenue, reducing costs, improving margins, you know things like that. So … But you know and that’s kind of strategic but for us right where we engage so … when we engage with either the business or we engage with IT, I kind of came up with you know kind of taking it down a couple notches and I really kind of describe it as really you know for us going in and we get to work with business and IT, it’s really … I describe it as kind of ensuring that the business honors you know IT governance policies, compliance and standards-


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:-right and IT honors really admitting the needs of the business you know in a cost effective and timely manner. So, when we kind of look at it our level in the organization-


Danny Ryan:Yeah


Bruce Harple:-those are the things that we really need to work with our customer whether our customer is business or whether it is IT to help to stay aligned with one another.


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative) Yep.


Bruce Harple:So you know what I was gonna do is you know kind of start out with you know just talking about you know from our experience you know what are some of the challenges that we see as we engage with the business-


Danny Ryan:Okay


Bruce Harple:-right as our primary customer-


Danny Ryan:Yeah


Bruce Harple:-are they paying our bill and what are the challenges we see when we kind of directly engage directly with IT.


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:So I find-


Danny Ryan:Cause we get a mix with that really. I mean is it 60-40 is it 50-50? What’s your general take on that?


Bruce Harple:It’s probably close to 50-50 it’s a split.


Danny Ryan:And we enjoy working with both yeah.


Bruce Harple:I mean obviously if yeah they have budget we like them so … we’ll work with either side of the business but it is interesting that a lot of businesses do have their own kind of Opt-X budget. They’re operating, spending their budget and they have a little line item called “IT Consulting”-


Danny Ryan:Yeah.


Bruce Harple:-and that’s how we kind of get engaged on the business. You would think for us, you know building custom IT solutions that we’re always going to go in through IT but that is not the case.


Danny Ryan:No.


Bruce Harple:So …


Danny Ryan:Cool.


Bruce Harple:So maybe we can do is let’s just talk about challenges that we see and I’ll start with the business and then move over to IT.


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:And then we’ll kind of go into you know kind of “how do we address those challenges?”. So on the business side what we’ll often see … it’s a great thing we love businesses to have those budget line items and Opt-X budget but in some cases those businesses kind of get this kind of I’ll call it rogue IT mentality.


Danny Ryan:Yeah.


Bruce Harple:They kind of … they have a budget and they have a line item, they kind of feel like empowered you know like they could kind of do whatever they want to do whenever they need to do it right, to run their business you know. And that’s kind of a false sense of security. That’s not really true cause at the end of the day you’re gonna have to push whatever you’re doing through the IT organization so they get this false sense of confidence in you know kind of … they have control of their destiny when in reality they don’t, so that’s a challenge right. Because we don’t want to buy into that false sense of confidence and security as it relates to that.


The other thing that we see too on the business side is that they might have the operating budget right-


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:-so they can kind of write a cheque and pay a vendor for services, but they don’t have the capex budget. So guess what, if I build a solution of some kind it’s got to run on hardware somewhere-


Danny Ryan:Yep.


Bruce Harple:-right. And many times they don’t have the capital budget to support that so now they have to go to IT.


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:So now there’s a dependency there, you know in the IT organization that can’t be that rogue IT-


Danny Ryan:Yeah.


Bruce Harple:-so they have that dependency.


Danny Ryan:I think a lot of this is why a lot of the cloud services are taking off or have taken off from that in the past. It’s that you know they look at them and they don’t have to make that hardware investment and so it’s one of those things that it can come out of Op-X and try to sort of get around things too.


Bruce Harple:Yeah yeah absolutely.


Danny Ryan:Yeah.


Bruce Harple:And that’s scary too because then you get into kind of risking complying with … nowadays things like data security, you know compliance and regulatory kind of guidelines are critical and we start kind of going out on your own.


Danny Ryan:Yep.


Bruce Harple:Yeah you can put your company at risk.


Danny Ryan:Yep.


Bruce Harple:And part of our job as good consultants is to make sure we’re not part of that you know. And we wanna make sure that we’re not contributing to that challenge, that risk.


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:You know another challenge we see on the business side is they don’t really care kind of from the business perspective. There it’s like, “I want you guys to solve my problem”. And they might not care what kind of technology stack right-


Danny Ryan:Yep.


Bruce Harple:-or architecture a vendor might come in and use, but the IT guys do care right. So you come in and try to build a solution and it’s not on an architecture that’s supported by IT, yeah you’re gonna run into challenges yeah at some point. And you don’t want that to happen.


I mentioned a lot of times that business doesn’t understand the governance and compliance regulatory kind of requirements of the organization right; cause why should they care about that, you know they’re trying to run a business, not trying to comply with things that IT in a lot of cases does make sure that a business complies with. You know, we can run into challenges there. And then the other thing is you know many times that business doesn’t think through that total cost of ownership-


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:-right. THey’re thinking, “I’m gonna pay ThreeWill to come in and build a solution and I’m done”. But they don’t think about any kind of ongoing licensing cost that might me associated with that solution.


Danny Ryan:Yeah.


Bruce Harple:We talked about the hardware and the capex budget-


Danny Ryan:Yeah.


Bruce Harple:-and that the support maintenance. Who is going to care and feed for the solution once it’s built, once it’s deployed, once it’s in production, especially if IT hasn’t been involved.


Danny Ryan:Yeah.


Bruce Harple:Right so you know from the business side yeah those are some of the things that we run into right, some of the challenges, some of the obstacles that we run into. So imma flip it around yeah we’ll talk about kind of on the IT side.


Danny Ryan:Okay.


Bruce Harple:So now we’re engaging through IT-


Danny Ryan:Uh huh


Bruce Harple:-what do we see as some of the challenges there. And one of them is you know … and this is in all cases in all IT organizations but in many cases IT doesn’t have that in depth understanding of the business.


Danny Ryan:No. Stop the press.


Bruce Harple:Yeah they don’t feel the same pain that the business feels. And a lot of times that’s why businesses go outside of IT. You know they’re like, “IT doesn’t get me. They don’t understand what I’m trying to do”. You know so yeah in some cases they do understand the pain of the problem but they don’t have all the detailed requirements. They don’t have all the deets laid out in an organized way right, where they can actually kind of play that back to-


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:– you know the business to get validation and confirmation that yeah that’s exactly what I need you to kind of do to solve my problem.


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:You know the other things you know on the IT side it’s always important on the business side that you have an executive sponsor right. Somebody on the business that truly cares about this right that’s gonna out some kind of skin in the game as well. And that skin could be budget-


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:-it could be resources they dedicate to it. You know something where they’ve got an investment in this right. Cause if you don’t have that business yeah with some kind of skin in the game, and making some level of investment, it doesn’t have to be dollars, it can be people it could be resources, you know that could be a challenge.


And the other thing I mean we’ve talked the other podcast and we got ThreeWill we follow the Agile Scrum approach right?


Danny Ryan:Yeah. Yeah.


Bruce Harple:And a real key element to that is its role on the customer’s side called a product owner. And the product owner is that person that really kind of creates the vision and makes sure that you know as the solution is developed it’s the solution that meets that vision, meets the requirements. And you know if the product owner is in IT, which a lot of times IT will try to play that role-


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:-and we’re like, “No, we really need that someone from business playing that role. They need to be the decision makers”. They need to be telling us what functionality is critical, what functionality is nice to have and things like that. So you know a lot of times we see IT trying to represent the business and we really push hard you know so that doesn’t happen so that the business can represent the business, represent their needs and their desires. Other challenges we see is just getting the business engaged early and often.


Danny Ryan:Yeah.


Bruce Harple:Yeah the sooner you get them engaged, the better right. And you want them engaged every week you know. And again, and we’ll talk about later in kind of the mitigation you know Agile Scrum you really kind of drives those business users to have regular participation. Either daily and or at least at the end of a sprint, but that can be a real challenge. And the other thing, the other challenge in IT is not all IT organizations operate in an agile or iterative way.


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:Right and we know from experience the more iterations of a solution you can deploy and put it in the hands of the end users, the sooner you get feedback, the sooner you can inspect and adapt and adjust you know versus more of a waterfall kind of a process. And new IT organizations are moving to that-


Danny Ryan:Yeah.


Bruce Harple:-you know cause they’ve seen the value of that. But that’s what we actually try to help influence. You know and then the other thing we talked about on the business side, they don’t maybe always have adequate budget and funding cause they’re not thinking about their capex side.


Danny Ryan:Yeah


Bruce Harple:Yeah we’ve been engaged on the IT side where they don’t have enough budget you know because they didn’t do all their due diligence, they didn’t get all the requirements-


Danny Ryan:Yeah


Bruce Harple:-and they don’t have enough budget. They might have the capex budget, so they have the servers right and the network infrastructure but they don’t have enough budget to build the full appropriate solution right-


Danny Ryan:Yeah


Bruce Harple:-you know to meet the needs of the customer. So those are kind of some of the challenges you know in things that we see you know depending on whether we’re engaging you know at the business level or the IT level.


Danny Ryan:And I’m sort of generalizing here but IT is very focused in on cost and trying to minimize costs and you know very risk averse as well typically cause they’re trying to manage their risks inside of the organization. As a person on the business side they are very opportunity focused, trying to push innovation, trying to go after the next thing. And so it’s almost like you have two different types of people. If they were a single person and they each have two different types of personalities. It’s almost like the … I think of the Covey stuff where it’s seek first to understand. We have to understand the other person, what their intention is when you’re working with them and both sides need to do that. IT needs to understand why they need to you know … what’s the business opportunity here? Business needs to know what are the risks involved with doing this.


Bruce Harple:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Danny Ryan:And so it’s one of those you have to … both sides have to listen but overall they’re having different intents.


Bruce Harple:Yeah, no and that’s key Danny. You hit on some of the things that I was gonna talk about as well. I mean that seek first to understand on both sides is key and the listening part is real key too. And I think in IT’s defense and everybody knows this in the industry I mean there’s more things that the business wants to do than IT has the resources to do right. And that’s what leads to the businesses that have IT budgets-


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:-right where they can go out and in essence do their own thing. And yeah because IT can’t do everything right. They just don’t … they don’t have the budget, they don’t have the manpower, you know they don’t have the resources to do it and that’s where there’s contention right. In our job as consultants right whether we go on with the business or whether we go on to IT is to really, we don’t want to create that tension. We want to make sure that that tension gets … we want to make sure that the tension is not there or that we eliminate it so we look at how can we help you know IT and or the business you know eliminate those tensions that exist-


Danny Ryan:Yep.


Bruce Harple:-because that’s not healthy for anybody and we want a good cohesive collaborative team you know across the business and IT cause it takes that for what we do.


Danny Ryan:Cool. I hope I didn’t jump too far into your-


Bruce Harple:No man that was perfect-


Danny Ryan:That was a lead in hopefully?


Bruce Harple:Actually the first bullet kind of under business mitigation so you know what I have next is a series of bullets for again, I’m engaged with the business-


Danny Ryan:Uh huh.


Bruce Harple:You know we’re seeing these challenges but how do we kind of work with the business to mitigate some of those challenges? So guess what the first one learn and understand you know IT’s vision and priorities.


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:Right so you know if IT is … if that priority for them is server consolidation, right, and if you’re going in and adding more servers, you know to their environment-


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:-you know you’re gonna contend with them right. That’s gonna be a challenge for you so … you know as a business you need to understand what all the IT’s … what’s their vision, what are their priorities for the year? Because you want to make sure you support that right. You don’t want to make it worse for them. So it’s some of that is that seek first to understand.


You know and the other thing is just relationally. A lot of IT organizations have a portfolio manager or a business unit account manager you know. And as a business unit and as a business person you should try to find out you know who is going to represent your interests inside the IT organization.


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:If there isn’t somebody there we need to make sure we have that point of contact inside of IT right. Somebody that is that portfolio business account type kind of manager. And then really making sure there is an IT executive who you know is gonna really step up and work with you to make sure you can achieve what you need to achieve you know as a business.


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:So it’s the relationships right and making sure you have those relationships built and established. And well the first things we always ask going in is you know do you have a governance plan? Is there a governance review board? So who controls you know how you deploy new solutions into your environment? Whether it’s SharePoint or whether it’s a web app it doesn’t matter right. So that’s a good question to ask and every business unit should understand that at some level.


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:Right maybe not the details of it but should understand is a governance process in place. Same thing you know a lot of organizations have a global security organization, we need to know that up front, they need to know that up front, because there are gates that you have to get through right from a security perspective, from a governance perspective and we want to know what those gates are up front because getting into those gates could cost you money right. Right cause it might take time to prepare the proper artifacts and documents that need to be reviewed and approved to get through those gates. And if you can’t get through those gates-


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:-you can have the best solution in the world, but if IT’s not getting to deploy it then-


Danny Ryan:Yep.


Bruce Harple:-you know, you’ve kind of missed out. Yeah and we talked about total cost of ownership, you know making sure that … one of the things that we do with the business is making sure that they think through hardware, software services and support, you know sustainment right, that total cost of ownership. We don’t go in and just quote, “Here’s what it’s gonna take for us to build this solution”. We go in and quote, “here’s what it’s gonna take, here’s the hardware that you’re gonna need to make this work and oh by the way here’s is what it’s gonna take to sustain this going forward”-


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:Yeah and so they have that bigger picture. Another thing we encourage our business people to do is to make sure IT … we talk about kind of having that IT sponsor right, that executive and that product owner but also get an enterprise architect assigned to your effort so that you can begin to align that technology stack that I talked about right.


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:So what we’re proposing to build and develop is that technology stack that we’re looking to use to build a solution; is it aligned? So you know get that enterprise architect involved and make sure that there’s people from IT you know on the team and part of the project. Again kind of that getting skin in the game-


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:-and making sure that they are part of that team, get them involved in architectural reviews, get them involved in project management. You know the IT side should have a project manager that complements your project manager on the business side-


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative) Yep.


Bruce Harple:-and get that line going. So and the last thing I had you know is I think everybody does is making sure you have from the business side a good communication plan. Right so yeah you want to make sure you have a good communication plan that addresses you know how is the help desk you know impacted on the IT side. How is the global security organization impacted? How is governance impacted? How is operations impacted? Right, do people have to do the solution. They have to get it set inside of disaster recovery and those things. So you know those are some of the things that we like to think about when we go in on the business side. Those are the conversations that we have early on with our business owners to make sure that they’re properly in line with IT.


Danny Ryan:I just got a text from Amy and she said that somebody just brought over some Jambalaya to our house so if you could speed up a little-


Bruce Harple:I’m coming then. I’m going with you. So the last thing right we talked about IT challenges so I’ll kind of just go thought some of the things to think about on the IT side to kind of mitigate IT not being in line with the business. And number one back to your seek-


Danny Ryan:Seek first to understand.


Bruce Harple:-seek first to understand is learn and understand the business and I put in quotes “feel their pain”.


Danny Ryan:Yeah.


Bruce Harple:I mean if you don’t understand your customer and your business’ pain, it’s going to be harder for you to know how to support them right and how to build a solution to alleviate the pain.


Danny Ryan:You have to do the Bill Clinton “feel your pain” hand. I feel you, I feel your pain.


Bruce Harple:But it’s true. It sounds kind of silly but you need to feel the pain and they need to … IT you need to … just like I talked about the business, they need to build relationships right-


Danny Ryan:Uh huh .


Bruce Harple:-with the executive sponsor you know with a project manager, with the enterprise architects, you know the IT people need to do the same thing you know. They need to build a relationship with the business executive, they need to build a relationship with the project owner who is on the business side not the IT side. And one of the things we like to do is we like to build a shared vision for the product right or the project. And we do that together. IT and business let’s build a vision for what we’re trying to accomplish because you know every decision that we make as we go through the project is we always look back to that vision.


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:So is this decision that we’re gonna make to do this thing or add this requirement, does it support the vision? If it doesn’t, you know why are we even thinking about it? Why are we talking about it?


Danny Ryan:Yeah.


Bruce Harple:Is the vision wrong? So you know we like to have that written out and kind of post it where we all see it and with all this visibility to it. We all come back to it to make sure everything we’re doing supports that vision. I talked about you know making sure IT has skin in the game you know. But it’s also just like to seek first to understand. Make sure the business has got skin in the game you know. And it doesn’t have to be dollars but typically there is budget involved-


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Bruce Harple:-but that could be resources right and other commitments that they make.


And the other thing that we like to do right and this is kind of part of Agile is you know taking those requirements and building at a backlog right and playing that product backlog back to say this has captured the things and what this solution needs to do. And then also you know tying acceptance criteria into all that all right and making sure that you have that alignment on. Not only is this what you need me to do right, this is the what, but if I do the what and it meets this criteria, then you’re happy right? And really that’s an important part of you know getting that alignment, that acceptance criteria forces that alignment at a solution level. And the other thing that I like to do too is you know take that backlog and build a road map.


Danny Ryan:Uh huh.


Bruce Harple:Right so it might be you can’t do everything you want to do within the budget and time constraints. So we think it’s important for IT to work with the business to build a roadmap. So you know this is kind of the V1 version of this solution, but I know you want to do these other things, well let’s plan a release every six months.


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:Or you know every nine months or every quarter. So we’re big believers in having those roadmaps, that are really business driven right. You’re letting them decide what’s on those road maps. Now talking about the other bullet here it’s just delivering value early and often right. Agile Scrum-


Danny Ryan:Yep.


Bruce Harple:-supports that right cause every two weeks you’re delivering value right, you’re delivering features, you’re getting feedback. And then the last thing, man it goes back to what you said Danny. I just wrote down, “communicate, listen, communicate, listen”


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:You know and it’s so key. And I talked about … we do that through retrospectives.


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:Yes so we are constantly doing retrospectives you know with our customers and we want the business and IT involved in those retrospectives cause we want to inspect and adapt and actually get better at meeting the needs of the business. How can we get better at-


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:-meeting the requirements that IT has to meet?


Danny Ryan:So for folks who don’t know what’s a retrospective, just a high level definition.


Bruce Harple:Yeah a retrospective is where you know we sit down with a team and we ask three questions: What should I continue doing? What should I start doing? And what should I stop doing? So it’s a great way to just kind of reflect on what you’ve experienced and figure out the things that are working, the things that are not working and new things can we do to get to work even better together. So …


Danny Ryan:Awesome.


Bruce Harple:That’s it. That’s a lot.


Danny Ryan:THat’s great stuff. This whole conversation reminds me of the situation in Office Space, have you’ve seen Office Space.


Bruce Harple:I have not.


Danny Ryan:Okay you’ve got to see Office Space because it’s just one of those classic movies but this is a couple of quotes from one of the scenes in Office Space let me see if I’ve got the volume turned up. Yeah I think I do here. So the situation is they have some business consultants coming in to look at their business to decide you know sort of who can they fire and so they’re sitting down and one of the guys asks this:


Speaker 3:“What would you say you do here?”


Danny Ryan:One of the guys comes in and this is like a … he’s like a business liaison.


Bruce Harple:Right.


Danny Ryan:Someone between the IT and the business. I think he says he’s the one who sort of … he brings the specs from the business down to the programmers so he’s like the guy who brings this down. And so he’s asking like, “What do you do here?” and then the guy gets upset at a certain point and this is what he says and I apologize; I think there is a little bit of cursing in here but it adds to the whole situation.


Speaker 3:“I have people skills. I am good at dealing with people. Can’t you understand that? What the hell is wrong with you people?”


Danny Ryan:He’s trying to explain that he’s got good people skills to be able to communicate from the business to the iT and he’s sitting there blowing up at this guy so … I love it.


Bruce Harple:Perfect


Danny Ryan:It’s a great scene.


Bruce Harple:Perfect. It’s a great one. I love it.


Danny Ryan:But there’s … I think there’s people inside the larger organizations who act as the liaison.


Bruce Harple:Yes.


Danny Ryan:I mean all this stuff speaks right to them.


Bruce Harple:Yeah it does.


Danny Ryan:That person or that conduit that’s trying to make sure that both sides understand each other, are working well together and I think for us it’s … our project can fail if we don’t think about the other side.


Bruce Harple:Absolutely.


Danny Ryan:And so for us we have to act that way as well, work with maybe a liaison, act as a liaison ourselves to make sure that the project’s successful. This is great. This is a really good topic so I appreciate you taking the time to put all these points down and share this with us.


Bruce Harple:Yeah I mean we have a lot of passion around this and we know we don’t go into a customer just to build things. We truly we go in to build relationships and we care about that business and IT alignment. We don’t take it for granted, we know it’s important and we know it’s got to be there and we work hard with either one of those organizations to make sure we help them get the proper alignment that they need so we all can be successful.


Danny Ryan:Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Bruce Harple:We have a lot of passion around it and we kind of feel like it’s part of what we should do as good consultants.


Danny Ryan:We’re coming on 30 minutes. We’re gonna wrap up here.


Bruce Harple:We’ve got people asleep now man.


Danny Ryan:We’ve reached 30 minutes. If you’re listening now, God bless you thank you so much for listening, you are a determined person and this means a lot to you so we appreciate you guys taking the time to listen. Have a great day and thanks so much.


Bruce Harple:Yeah nice day.


Danny Ryan:Okay bye bye.


Danny RyanBusiness and IT Alignment

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