What IT Business Alignment Isn't

 

I’ve been doing a lot of research over the past few months on the classic IT Business Alignment issue, and am putting the final touches on a white paper that will offer a definition of IT Business Alignment and present a framework for how an organization can start toward the goal of achieving better alignment.  Until then, I want to briefly talk about what IT Business Alignment isn’t.

While reading CIO magazine the other day (yes, the actual print edition), I came across one of those sponsored ads that looks like an article – “An IT Focus on Process”.  The ad-article immediately caught my attention due to my focus on process and process improvement.  As I read, I’m thinking there’s some pretty good stuff here – a focus on structure processes, need for organizational alignment – then it came.  The hook, the savior, the thing you need to achieve IT Business Alignment:  Software.  Yep, buy our software because it does all these great things that will allow you to achieve IT Business Alignment. 

Whether or not the software actually does these things I don’t know.  It may be the greatest software ever written.  But IT Business Alignment isn’t software.  If buying software is all we need to do to achieve IT Business alignment, why is it still a problem after 30+ years?

Companies are constantly pushing for the one thing that will enable an organization to achieve alignment – maybe that is why the issue has, in some circles, become stale.  People go off, buy the software, install it, and then wonder why they aren’t magically aligned.  They focus on the technology, maybe glance at the process, are blind to the people and wonder why things don’t go as planned.  How about a new approach: Focus on the process while engaging and involving the people to prepare for the technology.

Why not give it a shot?

Let me know your thoughts!

 

Glenn Whitfield

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12 thoughts on “What IT Business Alignment Isn't

  1. Glenn, as someone who builds software that supports strategic alignment through various functions and features, I couldn’t agree with you more that there’s little magic in the software itself.

    Most of our users don’t take advantage of the strategic alignment tools in ManagePro – which is probably a 2nd, back-hand support for your supposition.

    You suggest focus on the process, which makes sense. But if you had to really scrub away the concepts and fluff, process I wonder if you wouldn’t find more basic, distinct concepts. And in fact I think the business world needs the simplicity.

    I’m curious about your thinking on what happens if you reduce strategic alignment to the building blocks underneath.

    I think somewhere near the bottom is the simplicity that strategic alignment reduces to working, thinking, functioning in a priority sensitive manner. Strategic Alignment is a statement of priority for those who have prioritized strategy or who have prioritize executing their strategy.

    Maybe it doesn’t reduce down to a building block or two, maybe its a three legged stool. Your thoughts?

    Rodney Brim,
    CEO, Performance Solutions Technology
    http://www.managepro.com/blog

  2. Glenn, very very true.

    I’ve been on three sides of this issue – CIO, software company strategist, co-owner of a Managed IT Services company.

    It’s about the people, the processes and the MONEY.

    Software might help gather and correlate some aspects of the data that helps you align, but the big issue is articulating what IT does in business terms.

    In my experience a good test is how the IT budget is described and monitored.

    Putting a budget forward that describes Data Center, Desktop and Service Desk (etc) just shows the CFO that the CIO doesn’t get it.

    Budgets that describe Existing Service A, Existing Service B, New Service C, allow the business to intentionally invest, or disinvest, in things they understand.

    It is much harder to describe IT budgets, and processes, in this way as it requires skills that most IT departments do not have. Cost-based Accounting, for example.

    Same thing when you monitor the services delivered – Server uptime is not a business metric!

    Nick Goss
    http://twitter.com/nickgoss1

  3. Glen,

    I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why there are gaps in business and IT alignment.

    Some of it has to do with history. As much as IT people like to believe they knows the business, they come from a technology background and often skip through firms in entirely different market spaces. IT is a technology silo, and a peculiarly xenophobic one. It’s a special xenophobia, the fear of other business departments.

    In the halcyon 90s, tech gun slingers could come in and change the productivity, internal transparency, marketing and research of a business. IT “experts” came in and implemented game-changing technologies and then hoping to the next great opportunity. That process made many a career, including mine.

    Competition for people with specialized skills drove IT salaries way out of alignment with other people in the business. These specialists bore a frightening resemblance to Rasputin as they passionately talked about the benefits of ERP, CRM, BI, Portals and other exotic technologies. Now the conversation has mutated to the simply silly (Twitter, Social Media etc.)

    When was the last time you heard an IT discussion about customers, delivering value, ROI or the business model? In several non-technology companies I’ve worked with, IT costs represent 30% of business expenses. All of the systems are mission critical, the data centers have excellent uptime and and somehow the business derives no advantage.

    If you work in IT, you read CIO or InformationWeek or some other technical journals or blogs, but do you read your company’s industry magazines, blogs or books? How many IT shows do you attend compared to company industry shows? Do you go to dinner socially with the COO or with consultants?

    Cutting budgets 30 or 40% will have a wonderfully clarifying effect on alignment. Till then, where and with whom do you spend your time will determine where you’ll align. Don’t you think?

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    • Rodney,

      Great comments and thoughts! You are right with the simplicity. We (Business and IT) tend to want to overcomplicate things. IT believes there is no way the Business could possibly understand the technology, and the Business believes no one in IT could ever understand the way the company makes money. This creates the artificial wall that, once in place, is very difficult to break down.

      This drives us to looking for that one thing that can tear down the wall, instead of chipping away at it. Unfortunately, software is sometimes looked at as the panacea that will allow the walls to come down. Software becomes necessary, but alone is not sufficient.

      Breaking it down further as you have done with “working, thinking and functioning in a priority sensitive manner” helps drive toward that simplicity.

      Thanks for your comments!

  6. In my experience, alignment fails to happen primarily because of that lack of communications: between the CIO and the rest of the business, between the CIO and her staff, and so on down the organizational hierachy. It’s really amazing how many organizations lack the internal processes to keep everyone aware of what the real priorities are. Or in some cases, the CxO’s actually keep them a secret in fear some critical information will leak.

  7. I really enjoyed this discussion. I am a technical person, trained IT. The alignment between an IT and business is an interesting topic, i will really appreciate if there is any out there that explain all these better. In today business world, it is not enough to be a technical person alone.

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