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Business technology is the challenging next step in IT transformation

CIOs are embracing business technology to better meet the needs of the business, but transforming IT to accommodate this new world order is challenging.

Business technology is exactly what it reads as -- technology serving the needs of the business. From working closely with the CEO to transforming the structure of the IT department to better meet business requirements, it takes IT and business alignment to the next level. While the concept isn't new, it emerged as the theme of this week's Forrester's IT Forum.

Why? With economic struggles and cultural shifts influencing the very way business is conducted, according to Forrester, clients and past attendees are requesting more information on the subject. With a lot of talk centered on the changing role of the CIO, there was a lot of buzz about how business technology would all fall into place -- and how difficult it actually is to achieve.

"IT needs to get out of the business of drawing lines and get in the business of moving trees," said Stephen Gillett, CIO and GM of digital ventures at Starbucks Corp. "You want to work together with the business, but you need to know why you are doing it, and you need to be part of the decision-making discussion."

Today's business technology (BT) goes beyond simply complying with business needs -- it requires CIOs and other IT leaders to have an opinion from the start about how these services will affect the organization. The evolving role of the next-generation CIO includes having an opinion and a willingness to stand with non-IT leaders, he said.

"The CIO isn't the highest-ranking IT person on staff anymore," Gillett said. "The CIO should be able to succeed in other leadership roles to increase credibility and business understanding."

While this understanding will help the CIO lead the charge when it comes to introducing business technology concepts to IT, it's important for the CIO to fully understand and embrace all core aspects of IT first and foremost. Gillett suggests taking on business technology in chunks -- and not necessarily a total IT overhaul.

"You can't expect to go from IT to BT overnight," he said. "Learn how it will best fit in with your organization and strive for that alignment incrementally."

But the success of a business technology services implementation isn't solely up to the CIO, nor is the overall strategy. Diane Nauthe, manager of business analysis and design at Vancouver, B.C.-based worker's compensation board WorkSafeBC, said she is living this transformation in her own organization. And in some cases, she's experiencing more problems with the people than with the strategy.

IT needs to get out of the business of drawing lines and get in the business of moving trees.

Stephen Gillett, CIO and general manager of digital ventures, Starbucks Corp.

The fundamentals have always been there and "every good IT shop should've been focusing on business requirements all along," she said. "But it's getting tricky now because the business is coming to IT with a problem and a solution -- whether it's a good solution or not.

"The organization is overall more informed about technology, so they'll come to IT and say, 'I just read about this technology package and how it will solve our problems -- let's do that,'" she said. "There is a serious cultural shift that needs to be addressed."

Executives and knowledge workers are using more devices, programs and hardware to access and share information across the company. That increased technical awareness introduces more complex IT and business alignment issues, said her colleague Carol Murray, solutions manager for WorkSafeBC.

"The business is more tech-savvy, more sophisticated and is expecting more from IT," Murray said. "However, the core business objectives aren't clear, or even understood, so the real business problems aren't even being addressed."

While the business is looking for more technology services to support requirements, and the IT department is willing to provide these services, the priorities are lost in translation.

"The business people need to understand their priorities and IT needs to work closely with them," Murray said. "And we need to find the appropriate leaders to do that."

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