Why is effective collaboration between IT and business teams so difficult to achieve?

by Steve Parry on 29th June 2018

When working with clients it’s not unusual to find that there’s a cultural disconnect between the IT team and the functional business teams, be that the HR team, the marketing team or the operations team which can seriously impede the organisation’s ability to make use of the data that it holds to effectively drive business decisions. It’s almost as if IT teams are from Mars and business teams are from Venus.

Why is there a divide between IT and business?

Many of the causes of this cultural mismatch are historical. In the pre-PC era, line of business staff had no access to organisational data or systems themselves and were completely dependent on the IT team. Then came the development of PCs and end user tools that enabled business staff to begin to address their own needs, installing their own software and accessing data directly themselves.

However, this brought with it its own problems. IT teams increasingly found themselves being held accountable for systems that they hadn’t approved or installed themselves and had no oversight over, leading to a drive to reassert control and re-centralise IT systems and data management with enterprise-level governance.

Now the power of the internet, cloud computing and SaaS models means that there’s a greater than ever push from line of business to get control of their data and systems once again. This can lead to a kind of stand off between IT and line of business staff, with line of business staff pushing for greater freedom and more access whilst the IT team, concerned about issues of security, governance and support, are forced into the role of gatekeepers, perceived as always focusing on controlling access and restricting use.

The drivers behind this are understandable – on the one hand you have the people who are focused on using the data on a day to day basis, and on the other you have the people who are concerned with the technicalities of using that data, maintaining systems, keeping data safe and meeting governance and regulatory requirements.

Historically, all tech resources and, by extension, data would sit firmly in the IT team’s domain, but that’s simply not the case any more and it’s often far from clear who should have ultimate control of a tech resource. Take the company website as an example. The website is a marketing asset, so ownership should lie with the marketing team, right? But it’s also a complex piece of mission critical technology, so perhaps control should lie with the IT team.

Both approaches can be problematic. On the one hand, if the marketing team needs to put in a request to the IT department every time they want to make a change to the website then this can seriously impede marketing agility and customer responsiveness. On the other hand, giving marketing people unfettered access to the backend of the website can also throw up some significant data security and governance issues that need to be considered.

The lack of communication between IT and different business groups is also exacerbated by the fact that the two groups tend to use separate tools for data management. An ecosystem of vendors has grown up providing a range of different tools. IT teams tend to invest in data catalogues and other similar tools, whereas business teams tend towards more visual tools designed for data governance. Typically, these are developed by separate software vendors and cannot be integrated easily, if at all, making it even more difficult for the groups to collaborate. This issue of separate tools combined with a silo mentality also means that there is very little or no common metadata, even when two teams are describing the same thing. What’s needed is a way to ensure that the tools and the definitions and terms used to describe data are integrated and connected easily to facilitate working towards common goals.

Collaboration between IT and business is vital for business success

Organisations need to be able to use the data that they hold in order to make effective business decisions. Employees in different functional areas of the business need to have access to their own data so they can analyse it themselves and use it to drive the business forward. These staff are the ones who best understand the problems that need to be resolved and the questions that need to be asked, they need to be able to move quickly, and they need access to the data that enables them to do that.

However, IT teams can often be reluctant to let employees get hands on with the data. As already discussed, the IT team is concerned with issues of data governance and security. They’re quite reasonably reluctant to implement ad hoc solutions that don’t promote enterprise integration and they can struggle to make quick changes to complex legacy systems – issues that line of business employees often don’t understand or simply aren’t aware of.

What’s needed is a cultural shift, whereby IT teams are charged with empowering employees to make good use of data whilst at the same time ensuring that the data is secure and effective governance is maintained. There’s evidence that this is already happening in some organisations. A report last year from the Computing Technology Industry Association found that IT departments were starting to take on more of a strategic role, working in partnership with business units and focusing on using technology to drive transformation within the organisation. Seth Robinson, senior director, technology analysis, at CompTIA said “This represents a dramatic shift from the traditional viewpoint where business objectives were driven by business units and the technology team played a supporting role.”

However, digging into these survey results a bit more shows that only 43% of the 350 US companies surveyed said that technology enabled their business processes and less than 40% said that their organisation used technology to drive business outcomes. Only 36% said that the technology function played a crucial role in strategy. That means that for 64% of businesses the technology function doesn’t play a role in strategy and in 57% of businesses technology is not enabling their business processes.

Looked at this way, these are shocking numbers, particularly when you consider the extent to which technology is (or should be) driving all businesses today. In the age of big data, AI, machine learning, advanced analytics and cloud computing it’s hard to imagine how any business could function effectively without technology playing a role in driving its strategy or enabling its business processes.

Effective IT and business collaboration is good for the bottom line

A McKinsey report published last year showed that effective collaboration between IT and marketing can generate up to 25% more revenue straight to the organisation’s bottom line. Given that the rewards can be so significant, it’s depressing to read in the same study that 45% of executives said that marketing and IT did not work together in any meaningful way in their organisation, and in the vast majority of cases the marketing team were still completely reliant on the IT team in order to implement and configure the tech they needed.

Data is critical to business success. Effective use of data gives organisations a massive competitive advantage, but only if you can harness that data in order to gain insights are then used to drive business strategy. At Entity we refer to the process of taking the data you have and turning it into the information that you need as crossing the data delta.

In order to be able to cross the data delta, it’s crucial that everyone in your organisation views data as an asset, and that your IT and business teams are working together effectively. To find out more about how to make this happen, download our connected governance white paper.

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