Thursday, 29 September 2011

Business Technology vs. Information Technology


Business technology isn’t about different technology; it’s about a different way of thinking about technology – as a means to an end, not just a raison d’etre for the IT group.  Communication is the lynchpin of a business technology approach, allowing both groups to integrate and understand each other’s objectives and challenges in order to work together towards the ultimate objective of the organization – generate revenue.

 

Unify IT with the business

The term business-IT alignment has been around for a long time, but many organizations are struggling with putting this somewhat ethereal objective into practice.  IT needs to become part of the business, not just a ‘business partner’.  But what does this really mean?  It is difficult to devise a concrete strategy for integrating IT into the business to form a unified entity and dissolve departmental silos.  Fundamentally, it’s about involving both groups in business processes.  IT needs to be involved in business decisions and the business must be involved in IT decisions.  That means having business and IT people sitting in the same room when decisions are made – getting IT people involved at the earliest possible stage in new projects before there is a clear requirement for IT services and support and getting business units involved when IT is making changes to business systems.  IT can provide valuable automation solutions to business processes, and the business can communicate how changes will have impact in the context of customer interactions and patterns of business activity.  Business Technology goes beyond alignment, beyond integration – it’s about creating a symbiotic relationship between business units and IT to create a single aggregate business entity.

 Burt Reynolds 'gets' Business Technology

 

Measure IT with business metrics

The accepted metrics for IT mean nothing to the business.  99.999% availability might be considered a worthy goal for an e-commerce system, but if the 5 minutes of downtime that does occur coincides with, or is caused by, the busiest business period of the year then IT has failed to meet the needs of the business.  Business impact is simply not represented in this metric, so it hides a problem that IT won’t identify and ultimately address.  They need to understand the patterns of the business so that they can properly reprioritise incidents, problems and changes based on what is important at the time – e.g. which service interruption is costing the company most money.  In short, Business Technology metrics have a dollar sign in front of them to indicate how well IT is supporting business objectives.

 

Scrutinize both the business and IT when there is a failure

When IT fails to meet the needs of the business, the failure must be scrutinized to identify the problem and changes that must be made to both infrastructure and business process.  Fault does not always lie inside a little grey box – communication, competence and process could be at fault.  If an IT department decides to take a system offline over a holiday weekend, they might not be aware that it’s traditionally the busiest time for the business.  Is that a fault in IT, or a fault in the way the company communicates?

 

Tackle IT overspend to focus resources

In the past, technology has enjoyed a ‘silver bullet’ status, with technology investment taking a huge slice of the annual budget pie.  The current economic climate is exerting huge pressure on CFOs to identify savings, so they are naturally turning the microscope on the mysteriously opaque IT department and its massive price tag.  As a result, justifying budget is a number one challenge for the CIO.  If IT investment is justified in business terms (a difficult task) then the identification of redundant IT is a useful bi-product of this process.  Software and infrastructure that does not contribute tangible business value can be shut down or reassigned to form an IT function that is more ‘right-sized’ to the needs of the organization.

 

Takeaways:

  • Business technology is technology that adds value to the business.  If it doesn’t add value, it’s probably redundant IT ready for the chop.
  • Tackle IT-to-BT transformation service by service – prioritised by business importance.
  • Extract the silver bullets - consider all IT to be legacy IT until its value has been proven as BT.
  • CIOs should be pro-active about cutting costs now, before the CFO wields the hatchet.

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