There is no better time and no greater opportunity for IT functions than now. Technology consumerization and the translation and use of technology inside organizations have opened everyone's minds to possibilities. With the volatility of the business climate and disruption accelerating, people are looking in the direction of technology for answers.

At the same time, standard systems like ERPs are getting more capable and precise for targeted industries. New technology such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, and various forms of automation provide the capability to streamline operations, remove friction, and change all aspects of a business. Technology consumerization has created broad acceptance of tech in our lives. The possibilities are real and certainly within reach.  

However, realizing the potential of what IT can provide is complex. While executives are generally more technologically literate than ever before, internal alignment with business leadership remains elusive. Getting on the same page and setting expectations for IT and business leadership is a fundamental necessity but is frequently absent in today’s environment.

Gaining business alignment is difficult. When alignment is strong, there is no friction between business and IT; funding is always available, operations are transparent, and there is enthusiasm for the IT function.

When alignment is weak or absent, the feelings are of frustration and resentment, IT is starved for funding, and perceptions of the other side are "they don't get it” or “this is costing us an awful lot of money”. Thoughts quickly turn to questions such as “is the right person in charge of IT?” or “we need to change everything”.

There are many reasons for these difficulties. Unlike other functional areas such as finance or supply chain, most executives consider IT a foreign and costly domain. There are challenges with communications as IT often speaks in a language that is non-relatable to business leaders leading to a perception that IT is off in its own world. Frequently IT does not "have a seat at the table" and is not on the inside of high-level corporate issues and long-term strategy. In some companies, business leaders see IT as the people providing laptops and little else. These challenges are unfortunate as IT often has the right answers to many of the problems companies face, but ends up ceding ground and falling in line without getting their positions across. The good news is that not every company has this steep a hill to climb to gain alignment. Common ground can be found.

There is a cultural backdrop to this alignment that cannot be underestimated. Many companies are very pragmatic, with theoretical perspectives held in poor regard. Some companies see R&D as what is done by chemists, not IT. There is always a notion of “how things are done around here…” that is too often unspoken but dominates how people relate to anything new or different.

Fundamentally, the question of "what is expected of IT?" gets to the heart of the matter. Is IT to keep the lights on and do so for as little as possible? Is IT to drive functional excellence and bring new solutions to existing problems? Is IT to bring transformative change to the business with new business models and operational change on a grand scale? Are these questions answered the same way across business units and geographies? And, are all of these things possible within one function? The measures and skills required to keep things running are typically quite different from those that drive transformation. One size does not fit all. Each requires a different fit-for-purpose team.

Getting these answers is not a one-sided conversation, however. A shared understanding of the business climate and the company’s expansion/consolidation plans is critical in creating joint understanding. From here, clarity on the corporate strategy and opportunities to exploit / risks to mitigate needs to be discussed. From IT, the state of technology enablement, problems addressed, and what peers are doing with technology are all part of this dialog. All in all, it is not a brief conversation but a series of strategic discussions.

The time is ripe for IT to make an enormous impact. The challenges in making this impact are significant. Implementation friction will inevitably creep in, and the ability to affect business and individual behavior change is difficult. All of it depends on a strong alignment between business and IT leadership. There may have never been a time when this investment would pay more significant dividends.