how-to-engage-employeesEngagement is a term often used when discussing the relationship between an IT organization and the business units it serves. It’s interesting (and amusing!) to look at the many meanings ascribed to the verb, “engage” (from Dictionary.com). Most of these apply quite well to the context of business-IT engagement:

  • Attract and hold by influence or power
  • Interlock with, mesh
  • Bind (as oneself) to do something
  • Provide occupation for, involve (engage him in a new project)
  • Arrange to obtain the use or services of, hire (engage a lawyer)
  • Hold the attention of, engross (her work engages her completely)
  • Induce to participate (engaged the shy boy in conversation)
  • Deal with especially at length
  • Pledge oneself, promise
  • To do or take part in something (engage in healthy activities)

Other definitions don’t fit quite as well (though sometimes it might seem as if they do!)

  • Entangle or entrap in or as if in a snare or bog
  • Enter into contest or battle with (engage the enemy)

Business-IT Engagement Defined

I like to think of Business-IT Engagement as a process through which business and IT stakeholders:

  1. Discover opportunities to create business value through IT capabilities, assets and investments.
  2. Prioritize those opportunities.
  3. Launch and govern projects and programs that capitalize on those opportunities.
  4. Ensure that the potential business value from those opportunities is fully realized.
  5. Determine how best to sustain and, when appropriate, retire the capabilities and business systems that were created to deliver that business value.

Business-IT Maturity and Engagement Characteristics

I’ve posted before about Business Demand and IT Supply Maturity, and a simple 3-Level Maturity Model. (For a short video about the Business-IT Maturity Model, see here, and for one of my earliest posts on the model, see here.)

Engagement Disciplines

Level 1 Engagement Characteristics

At Level 1 (the lowest level) business demand and IT supply maturity, engagement can be characterized as:

  • Reactive — especially from the IT side. At Level 1, IT is often seen to be an “order taker”, waiting for business stakeholders to generate requests for services or solutions.
  • Inside-out — the IT organization takes a very IT-centric view. Engagement is thought of in terms of IT projects and other IT activities.
  • Technology-centric — engagement is all about the technology – the hardware, software, systems and networks that are the IT organization’s ‘bread and butter’.
  • By and large, the overarching context for engagement is cost — “How will this take cost out of the business?”  “What will this cost us?”  Value rarely enters the discussion!

Level 2 Engagement Characteristics

At Level 2 (intermediate level), engagement tends to be:

  • Active — rather than simply waiting for orders from business stakeholders, IT establishes structures and mechanisms to be an active part of the demand management process. Often, frameworks such as ITIL and COBIT and structures such as Business Relationship Management are introduced when business-IT maturity enters Level 2.
  • Process-centric.  There’s two sides to this. On the IT side, as mentioned above, processes are established to surface and manage demand — whether that be for project-related work or for IT services. On the business side, Level 2 demand maturity is often characterized by business process management, and cross-business unit processes such as order-to-cash, hire-to-retire, procure-to-pay, etc. become significant initiatives, often in conjunction with ERP deployment or major alternate sourcing solutions.
  • Focused on solutions — the engagement is much more about business solutions than it is about the underlying technology.
  • Engagement tends to be dominated by a project context — who, how long, how much, what scope, and so on.

Level 3 Engagement Characteristics

At Level 2 (highest level), engagement can be characterized as:

  • Proactive — structures such as Business Relationship Management not only surface demand, they actually stimulate and shape it with regard to business value and innovation. IT engages in business strategy formulation, with business and IT strategy processes converging.
  • Outside-in — engagement is dominated by the business view rather than the inside-out IT view.
  • The focus of engagement is around key relationships, rather than technologies or solutions.
  • Business growth becomes the overarching raison d’être for engagement— not that taking out cost and supporting business operations is unimportant — it’s just a given.
  • Consistent with the focus on business growth, the context for engagement is business value — with implications for governance, measurement and accountability — implications that dramatically impact the business-IT relationship.

So, What’s An IT Leader to Do?

  1. Take a step back and consider the question — what do our business partners think about our behaviors around engagement?  Do they see us as reactive, active or proactive? Do they see us as coming from our own perspective, or from theirs? Do they perceive our goals to be aligned with theirs?
  2. Consider our perspective on the business engagement disciplines — are they all we would want them to be? If we could change them for ‘the better’, what changes would we like to see?
  3. Think about business relationships and/or past situations where business-IT engagement was productive, value-producing and a great experience for all — what was it about that/those situations that led them to be so positive? How could those special circumstances exist more often/more broadly?
  4. What 3 actions could be taken relatively easily to drive up engagement maturity? What is preventing those actions from being undertaken? How could you remove those barriers?
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