Business leaders often expect technology teams to perform miracles. Technology leaders want business leaders to better understand their world. It’s no secret that business and technology professionals need to improve their relationship. The question is how.
According to Broadridge’s 2023 Digital Transformation and Next Generation Technical Research, half of all business leaders say they don’t have a clear enough vision of IT’s role in digital transformation. At the other end of the spectrum, more than a third of technology leaders say business leadership needs to learn more about technology’s capabilities and limitations.
Many businesses try to bridge these gaps by changing titles and responsibilities: Product managers become product owners and companions. IT process managers and business requirements managers act as intermediaries for business and technology. These changes are a good start, but they are running out.
As Chief Technology Officer at Broadridge, I think about these issues every day. The success of any technology transformation project depends as much on understanding and collaboration between functions and individuals as on pure technical execution. Achieving understanding and collaboration requires a skillful combination of the right goals, strategies, communication channels, and organizational structures.
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Drawing on my experience overseeing enterprise-wide engineering, delivery, and technology operations at Broadridge, I’ve developed some best practices and fresh ideas that can help companies get on the right track in each of these critical areas.
Objectives: Focus on business outcomes
Management teams and technology teams approach issues and projects with different perspectives based on their unique roles. These differences can lead to internal friction, which slows down transformation efforts and undermines results. The best way to overcome this challenge is to align both camps around the same broad goals.
To some extent, we are very focused on the cost and return on investment (ROI) of major technology programs. Of course, both are extremely important to follow. Still, in the end, it’s the impact on business results that counts most. Framing transformation projects in terms of improved business performance provides a goal around which everyone in the organization can rally. Defining clear, quantifiable, and achievable business goals for technology projects aligns the interests of every function in the organization. Management teams are more tolerant of any disruptions in technology development and implementation if they understand that the changes will directly benefit the business. Technology teams are more responsive to the needs of business units when they know that project success will be determined largely by how well the new technology helps improve specific business outcomes.
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Strategy: Prioritize impact
Projects that improve business results create the impetus for further transformation. When everyone in the organization sees the positive impact of a technology initiative on business outcomes, the entire workforce becomes more motivated to innovate further.
For this reason, it is usually wise to structure technology transformation strategies as a series of short-term initiatives that produce relatively quick, tangible results. It’s easier to align business and technology teams around short-term projects and goals. When it comes to long-term planning and large-scale programs, the disconnect between the two groups is more pervasive and evident.
That is, the size and scope of the initiative cannot be the only decisive factor. When prioritizing technology initiatives, you should consider which will have the greatest impact on the business. For example, look at legacy environments. Digitizing legacy platforms is expensive, disruptive, and often takes years of work. But it also has a huge business impact and saves significant costs by getting rid of tech debt. The trick is to break the larger goal of upgrading a legacy platform into a series of smaller initiatives where technology teams can systematically work with business leaders to address each challenge and deliver faster, incremental value along the way.
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Communication Channels: Encourage Flexible Communication
Basing transformation strategies on short-term projects that deliver high-impact business results provides another key benefit: it provides opportunities for both business and technology professionals to provide feedback that can guide future development efforts. Creating a culture that incorporates agile design elements enables a constant flow of information that helps identify and solve immediate problems and make critical course corrections to long-term strategy.
Organization structure: Two-in-a-box
Broadridge has used some innovative solutions to break down barriers between business leadership and technology teams. My personal favorite is the two-in-a-box model. With the two-in-a-box approach, projects always include two managers: one for technology and one for product. This applies to all levels of the organization. I share a “box” with Broadridge’s Chief Product Officer, Martin Koopman. In recent years, we’ve taken the concept further by setting up physical boxes in our North American offices where team members can take “two-in-one” photos. Now we distribute them internationally. It’s fun to see product and technology teams take pictures of the box and share them across the organization. But aside from the lightness, these photos play a more important role by showing everyone in the company that business and technology go hand in hand.