Innovation Leadership

The Three Tiers of Transparency between IT and Business

Three Tiers of Organizational Transparency

Often times, transparency between the IT organization and the business can be difficult to achieve. Typically, it’s not intentional. The two worlds are just very different and there are few individuals positioned in between both well enough to facilitate it. The key, however, is driving forward to the optimal state of transparency.

In any organization, there are three main tiers of transparency:

  • Grayscale
  • Opaque
  • Translucent

The first level is what we will call grayscale. At this tier, transparency is virtually non-existent. The business is unaware of what the IT organization is doing on their behalf and the IT organization is oblivious to how the business operates or what it needs. In this type of scenario, the project management team gathers requirements from the business team before going off into a proverbial “IT cave” for several months, having little or no engagement with the business team. Solutions that are delivered require constant rework and scope changes due to a general lack of understanding of the project’s objectives. As a result, budgets skyrocket and confusion proliferates. A project that began at $100,000 triples in cost, doubles in the amount of time it takes to be delivered.

Greater transparency ultimately translates into savings for organizations through reduced spending on enhancements and scope changes due to constant engagement

The second tier is opaque. At this tier, there is a high-level understanding of  business needs and IT activities, but not a consistent exchange of comprehensive information. Though collaboration is achieved initially, there is still a lack of mutual clarity on how to deliver the vision of the company. The IT team isn’t fully knowledgeable of the detailed workings of the operation. As a result, they deliver a solution that may accomplish the overall mission it was intended to accomplish, but is inefficient in terms of how the operation truly runs or is intended to run in the future.  The delivered solution sub-optimizes its operational value by being encumbered with non-value added steps, thus causing a loss of productivity or operational effectiveness.  Once again, costs rise as both IT and the business teams scramble to get it back into the box.

The third tier is translucent. At this idyllic stage, the IT organization does not provide merely a support function but is in fact in sync with the business. Transparency is at an optimal level and there is full visibility into the past, present, and future operational activities . The complete technological vision of the company is fully understood by all parties. There is agility in the deployment of solutions because there is a constant engagement between the IT organization and the business team, providing real-time visibility to a project at every stage, and determining whether it is meeting its objectives.

Communication is critical to providing sufficient transparency

Now it is not the focus of this article to advocate for agile or rapid deployment, but rather advocate the value of transparency. Though, to some, it may seem that the amount of energy needed to reach Tier 3 likely wouldn’t return enough of a benefit for an organization. However, I argue that the cost of not achieving this level is already costing your organization millions of dollars in overruns and change requests.  It is because greater transparency ultimately translates into savings for organizations through reduced spending on enhancements and scope changes due to constant engagement. The greater the understanding of business objectives and the capabilities needed to execute them, the more accuracy there will be in the initial design phase of new tools and thus, less capital expenditure on the back-end of projects after deployment.

Communication is critical to providing sufficient transparency. Organizational leaders must make it a point to establish the channels, content, and cadence of adequate communication between business and IT. From informational summaries of approved projects underway, to user feedback on solutions that have been implemented, each touch point of communication will provide greater opportunities for individuals to gain greater insight into anywhere there may be a gap in understanding.


Melvin Kirk

Melvin Kirk, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Ryder System

Melvin Kirk is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Ryder System, Inc., a FORTUNE 500® commercial fleet management, dedicated transportation, and supply chain solutions company. He is a member of Ryder’s Executive Lead... More   View all posts

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