At the heart of any company and its functions are the people. For digital transformation to succeed, operating models cannot remain vertical, but must become increasingly horizontal to support the leap. However, IT’s historical isolation from the rest of the organization constitutes a barrier to cross-functional transformations. Left alone, this leads to a host of issues:
Transformation efforts will face increasing hurdles as long as these problems exist.
To solve these obstacles, you need to address the human aspect causing them. Does your organization foster open communication? Do the IT and business units speak the same language—from defining issues, setting goals, and measuring success? Full-scale collaboration between IT and the business is not a luxury, but a necessity for your transformation efforts to succeed. Having this environment in place minimizes the problems outlined above and enables flexible and integrated transformation. Thus, assessing the way your organization handles its communication and collaboration approach must be your number one priority.
So, what should you do to create this environment?
Run IT as a customer service organization: back to basics to set the foundation to the transformation
At the fundamental level, IT should function as a service provider. For IT to provide excellent service and engage with the business, both parties must have a mutual understanding of capabilities and limitations. Therefore, two-way open communication must be set before charting any new initiatives.
IT should make conversation accessible to business units by learning to speak and write the “business language” and letting go of technical jargon. Business units need to learn how IT functions to facilitate mutual discussion and service improvements. Only then can IT understand business requirements, align project goals to business KPIs, explain how the services will benefit the business, and improve service by resolving pain points.
Too often, business and IT units clash over issues such as frequent downtimes without arriving at effective solutions. In many cases, simply promoting proper communication can lead to immediate results. At a multi-national logistics firm, the business and IT units had become so frustrated from service disruptions that business units began to criticize IT, creating more friction, tension, and frustration on the IT side. The broken communication loop only contributed to a further breakdown in service quality, derailing any efforts to transform service levels. Only after this was realized and confronted, was a mutual understanding gained and service levels dramatically improved.
Further digital transformation by bringing IT to see the real "clients"
In its day-to-day operations, IT is often siloed from the rest of the company, limiting communication and visibility on both sides. As long as the separation exists, increasing communication in itself won’t provide the clarity and collaboration needed to drive transformation. The best approach to break down this barrier is by immersing IT into the operations of its “clients,” that is, the business units.
Start by creating opportunities for business and IT units to interact. Open the door for partnership by introducing IT to the business operations and vice versa. Facilitate collaboration through structured “exchange programs” between the two sides. A strong alliance between IT and business units creates a constructive environment where digital transformation is tackled as an enterprise initiative, not as an isolated project.
Simply promoting shared visibility can serve as a catalyst for transformation. In the case of a large financial retail organization, the isolation between the IT and business units caused critical knowledge gaps and misaligned expectations, complicating the company’s efforts to implement a digital transformation program. To address this disconnect, the IT and business units underwent an in-depth “exchange program”, where they went on-site to identify the fundamental business processes required for the project. That deep dive helped all parties align expectations, understand the critical functions of the business, and pinpoint the requirements for digitalization, allowing the initiative to begin.
Transformation is hard—but not impossible. For the best chance of success, you need to reset the tone of the organization all the way down the ladder, not just at the C-levels. Manage communication and foster true collaboration in your organization, especially among those involved in the day-to-day, mission-critical operations. Align the business and IT units to break down barriers, open doors, and take that first step into your digital future.
Nathalie specializes in technology business management, transformation design and implementation, program management recovery, and crisis management. With a career spanning over 35 years across the banking, insurance, and logistics industries in France and the US, Nathalie has managed IT operations, strategic planning, and governance at such companies as Digital Equipment Corporation, BNP Paribas, Allianz, Thales, GEFCO, and Nutrien.