The Business of Information Technology
There is an excellent discussion taking place on the LinkedIn group for CIO magazine under the heading of: Some thoughts on IT-Business Alignment from the Chase Zander IT Director Forum (as influenced by CIO Forum members)
So far, there are over 35 responses, and many of them are really good. A couple of them got me to thinking about where the complaints concerning “IT Alignment” (or lack thereof) tend to originate.
It seems to me that the vast majority of times that I hear about a lack of IT alignment with the business from two sources (okay, three sources).
1 - The trade press, which continues to see it as a pressing issue (or ask about it in interviews to see if it is still a pressing issue)
2 – CIOs and other senior IT people who are responding to the questions from the trade press about IT’s alignment to the business, and want to make it clear they they “get it” and that they’re not like those other IT people who are only concerned about technology.
3 - Business people who feel that aren't getting what they want/need out of IT (or who have just answered the “is it still an issue” question from the trade press).
Let’s face it. Most companies put all sorts of policies and procedures in place to ensure that the many functional areas of a business are working in lock-step towards the common goal. There are well known clashes between the Sales and Marketing function in some organizations, or between Finance and Legal, or between other departments as they contend for resources or quibble over vision, strategy and methodology. Just because these are not commonly referred to as "alignment issues" does not mean that they don’t exist, or aren’t about alignment.
In my own experience across a number of organizations, I have seen instances where the "IT alignment" issue was not an organization-wide issue, but rather a perception by one or two departments that were not getting what they felt they needed to address their independent objectives. It was not the overall corporate mission that was at stake.
And this brings us to an important point: IT is actually there to serve all of the constituents in an organization in a way that facilitates the overall corporate strategy. The mission of IT is a holistic one, because IT touches all (or almost all) aspects of most businesses today. Unfortunately, some business units prioritize their specific divisional or departmental goals ahead of anyone else – even to the detriment of the organization as a whole!
It is incumbent on a company’s senior leadership team to present the vision clearly, and put the right processes in place that will ensure that every department – IT included – is on the same page about business priorities, and that a culture of cooperation is encouraged so that the best choices are made for the organization on a whole. As Bob Lewis points out in Keep the Joint Running: A Manifesto for 21st Century Information Technology, optimizing the parts often sub-optimizes the whole.
Finally the idea that it is the IT folks who don't get it is a holdover from a bygone era. In most places, IT does already get it, because they already have a view of all the moving parts of an organization. This perspective is one that not a lot of business units have, and one that I’ve addressed in previous posts. Let's not continue to push the view that IT folks are stubborn and reclusive and one-tracked, or that they only understand technology for technology’s sake. Certainly, these are generalizations whose time has passed.
It is incumbent upon all the leaders in a business to come together and establish what the strategy is going to be, what goals and objectives will be derived from that strategy, what plans will facilitate the achievement of those goals/objectives, and what metrics will be established to track progress against the plan. Whether you want to call it alignment, integration, coordination, cooperation, collaboration, synergy, or teamwork, it is something that has to happen for an organization to be successful – particularly in this economic climate.
Whether the blame has historically been with IT and IT leadership or with the business and business leadership, the issue has to be addressed within each organization that wishes to excel and thrive, rather than merely survive.
Let's put the focus on how to get it done, rather than on who is not getting it done, or on what to call it when it's not happening...