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7 + 1 topics to discuss during Business – IT alignment

The Business and IT teams should work in close cooperation to achieve together the goals of the organization. For this reason, the good Business IT alignment is a vital precondition.

Usually, process descriptions, roles & responsibilities definitions, and workflow systems support these activities. Examples are project management guidelines, end-user support process, budgeting guidelines, demand management, problem management workflow systems.

Whether you work in a large or small, hierarchical or agile organization, it is a good practice to have regular review meetings between the IT and a business department. The participants are the leaders of the IT and the business department, and a few colleagues on both sides who play leading roles in the cooperation. Pre-set frequency and agreed Agenda help the preparation on both sides and support joint conclusions and decisions.

The frequency depends on the IT exposure of the department; it may vary between once a year and a monthly, or in exceptional cases even more frequently.

The Agenda should include at least the following 7+1 topics (see also the info-graphics at the end of the article).

1. Action items

The best way to present reliability and credibility is to deliver what you promised. Maintain an action registry based on the agreed actions, including the responsible person and the deadline. Keep an inventory of the actions and review the status at the beginning of the meeting. It increases transparency. Besides, it is also a motivation for all participants to perform, since everyone knows that there is a follow-up, the sets a high priority for the business it alignment.

2. Strategy harmonization

The strategy doesn’t change monthly. However, that daily operative tasks and projects involve many changes. The everyday turbulences may sweep out the strategic directions from the mind of the people, who struggle with the short-term deliveries and fire-fighting. To emphasize the importance, it does make sense to review the main elements of the business and the IT strategy. I should be rather a reminder and a confirmation to put the discussion topics into the strategic context. A straightforward way is to review a simple table, including the business strategy and the related IT strategy items, and the implementation status.

3. Demands

The business units are usually most interested in the status of their demands. Often, the organizations work based on demand management process, with workflow support and demand inventory. As part of the overview, use the opportunity to update the priority, the status, and the deadline if necessary. Beware of the long-lasting “zombie” demands. These are the low priority elements that sit at the end of the list since ages. It is best to put them in the archive, thus eliminating the attention waste. On the other hand, in some cases, small demands might be relevant. Therefore, timely delivery may significantly improve business-IT alignment. You can read more about the Demand Management risks and mitigation here.

4. Project alignment

Review the status of all projects that have an impact on or require a contribution from the business unit. Besides the brief status, the most relevant part is the discussion of the Risks and Issues.

It is a good practice to invite the project managers as well to this part, especially if you expect an active discussion. While the information sharing and analysis is useful and necessary, don’t bypass the Project Committee authority and decisions.

5. Issues

This part covers the issues in the production systems and services, including operation, support, and maintenance. For the business side, the most relevant information is the expected deadline of the fix. Since the resources are limited in any organization, prioritization and setting the level of the severity is essential. IT should contribute to this, but the primary responsibility is with the business side. As they suffer from the consequences and operate the workarounds, they have the best understanding of what is the right priority of fixes.

6. SLA fulfillment

The Service Level Agreements (SLA) define the expected service level of IT services. Therefore, they are essential documents of the business-IT alignment. Normal parameters are response time, availability, maintenance hours, and the resolution times of fixes or at least the time to start the correction. The SLA fulfillment report includes the expected and actual service levels and also comments if there are any. Historical service level information supports to understand the trends and the stability/volatility.

Beware that the “Service” is a service from the business point of view. As an example, it should include the expected availability of the CRM solution end-user interface and not the availability of the different technical layers.

7. Financial overview

IT consumes the budget of the organization, but the business gains the benefit of the services. In order to match the business demand and the IT supply, the business side should have an incentive to optimum IT budget consumption.

On my view, the best way is to set internal settlement prices to the IT services as defined in the SLAs. The price definition is not an easy and objective process due to lack of the competition, but the management may use an external benchmark as a reference point. Whenever possible, apply unit prices, e.g., rate of one office environment or application access. It is also essential that the cost of the IT SLAs should be part of the budget of the business unit like any other external and internal spending.

This way, the cost of SLA will not be a kind of “funny money,” but real and the business will focus on it.

The organizations may have different approaches regarding internal charge-back. In any case, IT should present the total costs of the IT services for the business unit. Please beware that this is a complex activity. You can read more about the internal IT service pricing problems and mitigation here.

+1. Other topics of business-IT alignment

Don’t forget to discuss any other topics that may not fit in the previous list. Sometimes there is no. However, keep this item on the list and make a quick round if anybody has any other topic. It takes a few minutes, and relevant ideas, issues, and proposals may pop up. Don’t miss some seemingly small items that may also improve your business-IT alignment.

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