The last 10 years have seen a major shift in the language of IT. Traditionally, IT solutions built by technologists were purchased by other technologists. It was the IT department’s job to translate business needs into a language that vendors could understand. Procurement conversations would focus on technical requirements, not business outcomes.
Simon Bennett is CTO of EMEA at Rackspace Technology.
As digital fluency rose across other departments, however, vendors started selling directly to the business - and their language changed accordingly. You can see this in Microsoft’s current mission statement, which focuses on empowering people and organizations, not technical goals. Now the language of industry, focused on business outcomes, is the language of IT.
It’s just as vital for internal IT departments to make this shift as it was for vendors. By speaking the language of the whole business instead of just the language of tech, IT can enable employees across departments to accomplish more, driving results for the entire organization. Breaking down the walls between IT and business.
Within most organizations, it used to be that business was very clearly on one side and IT on the other, with a sturdy brick wall in between. Forward-thinking companies, however, have begun breaking down that wall by moving to DevOps and adopting agile software development practices. By bringing business representatives and technologists together in the same squads or pods, agile cross-functional teams open up discussions that may never have happened before - and help IT learn to speak the language of business.
The shift to working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic brought the importance of this change into full focus. At companies where IT was fully integrated with the business, IT management teams understood how employees’ day-to-day work actually occurred and were able to implement effective remote work solutions relatively quickly.
Meanwhile, companies where business and IT still spoke different languages struggled. The language barrier made it difficult for groups to comprehend each other’s challenges and led to missteps, from inadequate remote work support to departmental budgets being cut without full understanding of the impact on that part of the business. Many of these organizations have been forced to go on the defensive and may struggle to keep pace with innovators in their industries.
4 steps to a shared language between IT and business
If your IT department still speaks a different language from the rest of your company - or even if you encounter occasional translation issues - now is the time to take action. Seamless integration between IT and business is no longer just a nice-to-have. It’s a prerequisite for success in an increasingly tech-driven world, where hybrid and remote working environments are the norm and IT solutions are often the face of a business.
1. Educate IT about business direction and strategy To begin speaking business language, it’s important for IT to understand your company’s products and services and the general market you operate in. You can accomplish this in any number of ways, from publishing newsletters or hosting forums to simply forming cross-functional teams that promote greater collaboration. Your goal should be to help IT think about their work in terms of its impact on your customers, not just on fulfilling requirements.
2. Get buy-in from business leaders Integrating IT with business is a major cultural change and its impact shouldn’t be underestimated. Make sure to secure genuine buy-in at the top of the organization, not just lip service. Roadshows can be a great way to educate leadership while also spreading awareness across the entire organization.
3. Encourage business leaders to learn for themselves That said, business leaders can’t rely entirely on their internal IT teams as a source of knowledge. To stay relevant in a tech-driven world, you have to understand technology trends and keep an eye on disruptors and innovators in your industry.
For example, the rise of software as a service (SaaS) has important implications for customization and business processes. A tech-literate business leader should understand the advantages of out-of-the-box SaaS solutions, but also be able to see where bespoke solutions can genuinely transform their relationship with a customer base. You’ll be more likely to gain this type of insight if you’re actively engaging with tech trends on your own terms.
4. Lean into remote-work-driven collaboration At many companies, remote work may have actually accelerated the pace of change when it comes to integrating IT with business. The use of unified communications, including chat and video conferencing, has broadened most people’s networks, allowing them to better communicate both with their own department and more widely across their companies. This shift may already be fostering a closer relationship between business and IT at your organization - so even if you’re returning to the office in person, don’t let the momentum slow.
A more connected future
With technology becoming central to business processes across industries, it’s no longer feasible for a successful company to maintain a sturdy brick wall between business and IT. Technologists need a deep understanding of their companies’ day-to-day work to deliver on business outcomes and ultimately drive the success of their organizations. The language of IT has changed - and it’s time for internal IT departments to catch up.
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Simon Bennett is CTO EMEA at Rackspace Technology.