"IT has its operational goals, and it is an engineering-oriented discipline. So what happens is that many IT goals don't translate well to CEOs and COOs, who are focused on the business," said Jeff Klaus, general manager of data center management firm Intel DCM.

Klaus was referring to the disconnect in communications that occurs between IT and other C-level managers. The C-level managers want IT projects and benefits broken down into plain English that relates to tangible business value. When the communications from IT aren't clear, they get in the way of making IT work for the business.

SEE: IT leader's guide to making DevOps work

A bit of history

Effective communication between IT and the business isn't a new problem.

More than 70 years ago, IT came on the scene in the form of card input-based computers that companies introduced to address back office functions like processing payroll. Consequently, IT first developed as a small data processing function under the supervision of finance departments.

As companies recognized that IT applied to all business functions, IT was split off into a separate department. This rapidly evolved into a business perception of the IT "glass house," where end-user departments turned in IT requests and only heard back on the requests when IT chose to communicate.

This lack of collaboration created a legacy of distrust, which eventually spelled the end of the glass house and spurred a movement toward more collaborative ways for IT and the end business to interact. And that brings us to today: when CEOs, COOs, and CIOs are still wrestling with how to get the most out of their IT for benefit of the business.

SEE: Quick glossary: Project management

Collaboration models

Along the way, three collaborative IT/end business collaboration models have emerged:

  • An approach where the business analysts who define projects are part of the IT group and are assigned as "account reps" to different user departments throughout the company
  • An approach where IT is strictly a technical operations function, and all business analysis and IT projects originate from the end business units themselves
  • An approach that uses two business analyst teams, where one of the analysts comes from IT and understands the technical and integration requirements of doing a project and the other is employed as an advocate of the business needs of an end-user department.

It is often difficult for companies to decide which of these models to choose from. In some cases, they might even identify another model altogether, which they think will work best to facilitate a productive working relationship between IT and the end business.

Regardless of the choice that is made, we do know several things:

  • CEOs and COOs (as well as CIOs) need to assume leadership positions in determining the best IT/business working models for their organizations. In many situations, it is also productive to bring in the HR executive, since people and communications are involved.
  • Defining and directing business-IT projects through IT business analysts works best in organizations where the business units are lax or inexperienced in going after IT and prefer to use IT as a consulting and directing group.
  • Organizations that employ business analysts in business user areas to define and direct projects, with IT as a strictly technical arm that executes projects under their direction, are comfortable that their end-user departments can capably understand and direct technology projects, tech budgets, and vendor relationships.
  • Companies (especially large enterprises) that have a lot of red tape, internal policy, and procedure hoops to jump through--along with disagreements between IT and end users--have gone to two-analyst teams, where the analyst team mutually defines each project and becomes an advocate team for funding and executing each project.

There is no surefire way for optimizing IT and end business collaboration that works for everyone, but with technology at the center of most organizations' ability to advance in markets and operational efficiency, it is incumbent upon C-level leaders to figure this out.

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