In today’s world, technology is the vital element that can give a company its required competitive edge, making it critical that the IT department align itself with the business side of the company.

Being able to align IT with business means bridging the gap that all too often exists between what technology promises and what it actually delivers. Elimination of that gap requires that you find proven methods to minimize cost and maximize benefits of information technology. If you can manage that feat, the benefits will be a boon to your enterprise, not to mention your future professional success.

In this article, I’ll explain how I mapped out my IT department’s goals in correlation to the company’s business needs, and then I’ll offer tips on how to ensure the same kind of business alignment success.

The first step
When my IT department decided to begin the year with a new set of goals more closely aligned to our remodeled business strategies, we first asked each department to submit independent goals for the year. Since IT is generally involved in most large-scale plans, we then took another look at how IT and departmental goals would need to be better associated.

Smarter growth and better use of technology to directly support a company’s needs and strategy must be the undertone of all of IT’s goals. Here is the basic format we implemented to drive our master plan:

  • Company mission statement
  • Primary goal(s)
  • Key operating goals for 2003
  • Departmental main goals
  • Supporting actions
  • Timeframe for accomplishment (i.e., first quarter, second quarter, etc.)

Five-phase plan
There were then five phases to tackle once the basic outline was completed:

  1. Assessment: Ensure that the technology selected will support current and future business needs. In addition to considering areas that will benefit most from new technology, you need to examine how to maximize the benefits of existing technology.
  2. Selection: By using information to gain control of your technology decision, you can weigh the pros and cons of each possible goal by determining the expected benefits, total costs, and implementation timeframe.
  3. Implementation: This requires a comprehensive plan to ensure that you achieve specific, measurable goals with a systematic approach, as well as improved business procedures that match your new system’s capabilities.
  4. Support: Ensure that technology is meeting the business goals by building in the necessary support and ongoing evaluation necessary for success. Consider training as well as third-party support needs.
  5. Review: Using the target objectives, and with clear statements of the specific activities required to achieve the goals, ensure that periodic reviews are in place for the current status.

How did we do all this?
The first step was to assemble a team (represented by each department) that was knowledgeable about the issue to be considered. That team then worked together to ensure that our company mission statement reflected our beliefs and to create a master “goals” chart, where all the goals were assigned calendar quarters for completion.

In order to monitor the ongoing goals efforts, we decided that a weekly approach was the best track in terms of hitting expectations. Each month we reported to the company leaders on the progress, and we reported the status of our goals each quarter to the company’s employees. This made us ultimately not only accountable but also responsible to the company as well as to our fellow employees.

Important points in setting goals
During this process, we learned a great deal in terms of how to set goals the right way. Here are some of the highlights of what we learned:

  • Set realistic goals: This is critical, because IT managers have to be realistic about what can and can’t be accomplished.
  • Set goals on issues/solutions where you, as an IT department, have as much control as possible.
  • Set specific measurable goals: General or fuzzy statements aren’t successful.
  • Adjust goals as needed, analyze reasons for failure, and take appropriate actions to improve a failing goal’s status.
  • Get needed information up front: If you do not have a clear, realistic understanding of what you are trying to achieve, it is difficult to set effective and realistic goals.

Think the goals through
When you are planning goals, you should answer the following questions:

  • What skill set is needed to complete this goal?
  • What information and knowledge do I need?
  • What assistance or departmental collaboration do I need?
  • Do I need an expert from another department?
  • What resources will be required (people, hardware, software, services, etc.)?
  • What can create stumbling blocks?
  • Am I making any assumptions—should a second party (another business unit) review this goal?
  • Is there a better way of doing things?

Your ability as a company to compete in the marketplace is accomplished in part by an ongoing investment in either leading-edge technology or the integration of solid technology into your work practices. Smart growth and better use of technology to directly support the company’s needs give you the chance to fulfill the goals you set forth. Setting and achieving goals is a critical factor to future growth and corporate success, as well as your own career advancement.