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Aligning IT with business strategy: Be engaged!

By Erik Kubinski, MBA, ACHE

There is a lot of literature available to us in books and elsewhere on how to better align IT with the business strategy. A classic book that we still discuss today from the 1990s, is “Practical Steps for Aligning Information Technology with Business Strategies,” even though it is a bit dated when it comes to the technologies discussed. There is also the ‘classic’ collection of essays from earlier this decade published by the Harvard Business Review Press with the promising title, “Aligning technology with strategy.” There are even more recent articles and blogs from prominent thinkers in the industry such as Martha Heller and her blog post entitled, “How to strengthen IT’s connection to your business.” This is a timely, important topic and deserves ongoing discussion.

That said, even the best-known approaches, methodologies, and techniques are not always enough. The problem for the IT practitioner is that if we get this wrong, we will waste precious resources – money, time, and focus – across the entire organization, not just in IT. As a key member of the leadership team, we must be aligned with our peers to maximize the chances for achieving the enterprise goals and objectives, to deliver on the strategies.

So how do we start and get this right? Proudly knowing or even being somewhat aware of all the great ideas from the literature can certainly help. But for the IT practitioner leading in an organization where each organization is all so different, even in the highly regulated industry of healthcare, we say that you must first know the business of the organization before any IT strategy can be developed as helpful or effective.

That means that as an IT leader you must know not just your IT space and have an expansive and deep domain expertise. As a start, that also means you must know the clinical model of the organization. You must know the operational model of the organization. You must know the basics of the history behind how those models were developed over time and what is currently being planned for them. You must know and understand the financials of the organization and its historical patterns. You must even know the demographics and demographic projections of your communities. And let’s not forget that you must know the organization’s current operational strategy and at least be knowledgeable of its business strategic direction even if such an overarching strategy is not cohesively written down or comprehensively communicated. And the best way to do all this: To engage!

The IT leader must engage the organization at all levels and with its customers and stakeholders. One sure way to get this done is to purposely schedule this on the daily calendar for key stakeholders that you would not otherwise engage. For example, half-hour, one-on-one sessions every day with at least one clinical staff member in their offices or in their areas scheduled first thing in the early morning if possible. Now, there is still a strong need to communicate through formal group meetings and committees to reach larger audiences with communication. But the one-on-one sessions can indeed be a powerful way to engage and gain insights and understanding when facilitated properly by leaders of the organization to truly learn and understand the business and where the business is going.

So for all the IT leaders reading, don’t wait, get out there now and engage as much as possible and then … double down on your efforts! It’s that important in order to get the foundation right for aligning IT with business strategy.

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