IT and business can be worlds apart. Yet a business depends on IT to help it digitally transform, streamline its process, and cloud-enable its applications.

IT and business can be worlds apart. Yet a business depends on IT to help it digitally transform, streamline its process, and cloud-enable its applications. On the other side of the coin, IT is there to serve the business via technology. The business, in effect, is the sponsor of IT. It controls the purse strings. Therefore, IT has to find a way to bridge any gap in reality that may exist so that understanding prevails between it and the business. Only in that way will the needs of both be served.

Here are five ways in which IT can more effectively engage with decision-makers beyond the IT department.

1. Develop a 360-Degree Perspective

Sometimes IT fails to comprehend the perspective of the business. Those in IT may not be fully apprised of what the company does and how its employees operate. They may not appreciate the fine details of the processes that apply to both front-end and back-end tasks. This can lead to alteration of needs and pushback on project deliverables.

Therefore, it’s vital that IT works diligently to achieve a 360-view of the business, particularly related to the projects at hand. When IT is developing a new application, for example, the key IT personnel involved must take the time to get to know all the internal and external stakeholders that will be impacted. They must find out why the business needs this specific application, determine what the business demands from it, and obtain input from all relevant parties.

2. Go Agile

The traditional waterfall approach to software development took too much time between early collaboration (if it was present at all) and the unveiling of the application to users in its final form. Sometimes they got it right. But more often, they got it wrong. There are many cases on record of years being spent in application development only for the resulting software to prove too unwieldy for users.

More and more organizations are using an agile development methodology to avoid such occurrences. IT involves the business every step of the way, showing it each iteration and small chunks of the application as they’re created, all the while gaining feedback to refine the software. As the development process progresses, both sides gain confidence that the work being done is exactly what the business wants.

3. Share Liberally with Users

In the old days, users were often presented with new software a week or two before it was broadly released. By then, it could be too late to make any necessary changes. One large organization, for example, spent years developing software at great expense. It proved to be wonderful from the management’s perspective. It provided management with data from branches all over the country that could be sliced, diced, and used in reports. Managers loved it. But the frontline workers? They didn’t love it so much because it slowed down existing processes. They had to enter so many fields in the new system that it took about twice as long per transaction as it did in the original system that had been in use for many years.

Thus, sharing of features and potential workflows and data fields shouldn’t just be done; it must be done over and over again and adjusted to ensure all stakeholders are happy. That’s the only way to avoid the production of software that’s skewed too much to the needs of management or alternatively to the needs of the workforce. Both must be happy with the outcome.

4. Ensure That Architecture Is Junior to Business Needs

Some in IT love to devise clean, modern, and elegant architecture. There’s certainly a place for this, but not at the expense of business needs. Architectural design, therefore, should come after a thorough assessment of the underlying business requirements. Only then should IT align the project to its own needs, such as determining the best platform, vendor, and overall approach. Doing it the other way—IT rigidly laying out the IT infrastructure that the new application must adhere to—inevitably results in project delays and cancellations.

5. Appoint a Proxy Product Owner

Despite its best efforts, IT can sometimes struggle to gain a complete picture from relevant stakeholders on the business side of the fence. This can occur at times due to the inexperience of liaison personnel within IT. At other times, the business may be engrossed in other priorities and lack the bandwidth to provide a complete picture of what it really requires. Whatever the cause, IT may be missing the presence of a business product owner who’s fully engaged in the project. This makes IT’s job difficult and, at times, impossible. A workable approach in this scenario is appointing a proxy product owner. Ideally, this would be someone within IT who has a solid business background or at least a firm understanding of the business side. This person acts as a proxy on behalf of business interests and carefully aligns his actions to those of IT and the agile sprint teams directly developing the application.

No one wants to have to redo software that may have been several months in the making. Similarly, no one wants to force users to “make do” with inferior applications. An agile development approach simplifies course correction in the middle of a project when end user or business needs aren’t well served.

The points in this article can more closely align IT with the business. They can also help IT improve its level of engagement with business needs. But bear in mind that you must bring all stakeholders together early in the process to achieve a 360-degree view. You need to identify the right people and bring them in right at the beginning. Doing so facilitates the correct delineation of program objectives, development requirements, and project steps.

Shriram is a Director in Cognizant Consulting. Shriram is a business transformation leader, passionate about helping carriers transform their capabilities to derive overall value and growth for all stakeholders. Shriram has global consulting and insurance experience advising clients on Insuretech start-up, Green field implementations, program management, enhancing business processes, and customer experiences leveraging a digitally enabled technological ecosystem. Shriram has several years of Insurance and consulting experience working with various P&C carriers in India, the Middle East, APAC, UK, and US geographies. Shriram has worked as an underwriter, claims professional, and reinsurance broker in his prior experience in the Insurance and Reinsurance industry.

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