5 Things Execs Need to Stop Doing to Bridge the Business vs Technology Cultural Divide

SA - 5 Things Execs Need to Stop Doing to Bridge the Business vs Technology Divide

It’s 2020 now and I think it might be time to address the business vs technology (or IT) divide better as it has been going on for far too long. Large companies waste enormous amounts of time and money due to the ‘Us vs Them’ cultural divide and mentality between business and technology.

I want to highlight that this article is focused on addressing the underlying cultural divide, rather than the IT and business problem solving space. There are many approaches such as Human Centred Design (HCD) and Agile (blended teams) that allows business and technology to work well in order to solve a problem. This is not trying to replace that in any way but rather address the cultural gap that impedes and blocks the effectiveness of HCD or Agile.

One of my colleagues, who works for Gartner, made a good comment on my last article, highlighting that I’d called out key issues, but did not discuss how Execs can clearly address the business complexity issues in it. So, this article has focused more on providing five actionable changes to help Execs bridge the business vs. technology divide.

I want to stress that some of these changes can be harder to do and are challenging to the status quo. Many companies are talking about ‘New Ways of Working’ these days and play around the edges of normal. To really make a difference, it will require proper change, and proper change is not easy. 

1. STOP creating a business strategy and technology strategy separately. It’s one strategy.

Very few businesses these days can operate without technology. In fact, without the technology part, you could argue the business would not even survive. When technology is such an integral part to the business, why do we create a business strategy separate to a technology strategy?

Some companies still create the business strategy documents (in isolation and sometimes in secrecy) to the technology side of the business, and expects the technology strategy to be developed once the business strategy has been defined. Why do we do that?

Another scenario I observe a lot is when organisations are planning acquisitions and mergers. The business strategy arm plans these merges and acquisitions with very little technology considerations. How many times have we seen post-acquisition and/or merger, the complexity and the near impossible technology hurdles that needs to be dealt with within fixed commercial deadlines, ultimately compromising the technology landscape and the business itself?

I understand that secrecy is crucial for these strategic moves, but why is technology not part of this inner circle to ensure the technology considerations are done correctly? The business and technology strategies need to work as one to ensure better outcomes.

There is no business or technology strategy – it’s ONE strategy

2. STOP creating KPIs to measure business and technology outcomes separately.

One of the very destructive and counterintuitive things I come across in some companies are KPIs and their attached bonus systems. I understand these are there to incentivise employees and provide tangible benefits, however when they are not carefully designed, the end results create personal agendas that undermine the business and technology relationship.

Some companies have a base KPI and bonus system that has percentages reflecting how well the business performs overall. This generally works but becomes problematic when individual KPIs and goals are defined within an employee’s performance plan. Typically, employees work with their managers to define this and it becomes a significant part of their performance appraisal and stretch goals. Intuitively, people outline projects and initiatives significant to them. This exacerbates the divide between business specific goals and technology specific goals.

Credit Dilbert

For example, I have seen technology goals such as ‘reducing IT operational costs by 20%’ be implemented in a counterproductive way. The overall goal seems to be valid and you can argue that it improves overall business efficiency. However, the way this KPI is achieved can cause conflict if you are not careful. I have seen technology cost savings being implemented at the expense of reduced business support and responsiveness.

KPIs should be developed and introduced to measure collaboration between business and technology, not competition

3. STOP placing Enterprise Architecture in technology. Move it to the business.

Traditionally, the Enterprise Architecture (EA) function sits within technology. In mature organisations, the EAs are engaged early on, but more often than not, this occurs only when the business is thinking about technology, not during the early business strategy discussions. This is too late. Enterprise Architecture is not purely a technology capability as it applies critical thinking across the entire business. Ideally, it should sit within the corporate business strategy function to maximise its value.

When the EA function sits under corporate strategy there are some key benefits that start to emerge:

  • The Enterprise Architecture is considered at the inception of the business strategy and business thinking.
  • The Enterprise Architecture function is not derailed (or influenced) by technology KPIs.
  • The strategy team has the right balance of business and technology to drive one strategy.
  • The EA function is now a business function, hence the business will over time trust and embrace it rather than consider it a separate technology-specific capability.

Also note, other architecture capabilities such as the Solution Architecture function should remain in the technology function to ensure delivery capabilities are better managed and kept inline to the strategy and Enterprise Architecture.

4. STOP having separate technology and business town hall meetings. Have an all in one.

Many companies hold their periodic meetings or town hall sessions to ensure the employees are kept up to date and everyone has visibility to the key strategic plans, significant events and news across the business. These town halls are key checkpoints that can help reinforce the company vision and ensures everyone has the opportunity to collectively discuss it. However, these sessions are typically done separately where the technology leadership (usually a CIO or CTO) runs these sessions for technology and the business leadership (usually the CEO) does it for the business. Why do we do that?

Some of you may be thinking, how much is it going to cost each time we bring the whole company together? We have so many people that it’s going to be too expensive and too disruptive. The question you should be asking is, how much does it cost the business when your business and technology sides are disconnected and not understanding how each party helps drive and achieve the overall vision and success of the company?

5. STOP your technology and business teams sitting and working in silos. Co-locate and share the same space.

Anyone who has worked in a successful project will understand having the team co-located drastically improves the success of the team working together and ultimately driving a successful outcome. This is not a new idea; however, many companies have the business and technology teams located on different levels. When I visit new companies, I usually ask at reception if they occupy most of the building, especially when they have their logo on the building itself. The answer I usually get is business is on floor x, y, z and our IT or technology is on floor a, b, and c. Why do we split these core capabilities across separate floors so that they never get to easily build trust and rapport with each other?

A while back, I was with an architecture team on a separate floor (as per usual), and due to a shortage of space, they moved some of the architects to the business floor for a short period. There were many problems and ideas being discussed next to us that we eventually got drawn in and had very productive discussions. It allowed us to understand the business viewpoints clearly as we could see their daily challenges and pain points, and business users got to understand some of the technology challenges we had to juggle as architects. The two sides got to understand both sides and work better.

If you look at the floorplans of many organisations, you have to ask the question if these were designed for maximum productivity or ease of management. As I said before, it’s not easy to co-locate all the teams, but the end benefits can be worth it.  

In summary, there are multiple reasons for the divide between business and technology, but they can be gradually overcome with setting up the right environment for collaboration through the right leadership and thinking. As an Exec that wants to bring business and technology closer together, these 5 strategies must be considered.