For a long time now, alignment with the business has been seen as the holy grail of IT. Yet at least some folks think IT is expending a tremendous amount of time, energy and resources chasing after the wrong grail. Kind of like the Monty Python version of King Arthur.
One of them is Peter Hinssen, chairman of Belgian consulting company Porthus and a teacher at the London School of Business. In a recent address to Canadian CIOs attending an event hosted by CA, he said alignment typically results in IT being viewed as "a perfect, executing, order-taking butler." While this might be an improvement in how some organizations currently view IT, it'll never lead to IT becoming a more strategic role.
Hinssen, the author of a book titled "Business/IT Fusion: How to Transform IT in Your Organization," suggested IT needs to become more tightly integrated with the broader business, not just aligned with it, and that means embedding IT throughout the organizaton. The example he offered is Procter & Gamble CIO Filippo Passerini, who outsourced 5,000 of the company's 7,000 IT positions when he first joined P&G and then dispersed the remaining 2,000 staff members throughout the business. As Hinssen told the attendees:
You have to blend in, fuse and take over when necessary.
CIOs can learn from CFOs, Hinssen said:
CFOs used to just be the bean-counters. The CFO has transformed from someone operating at the side to a core activity. The CIOs have to do the same thing.
Hinssen is hardly the first to downplay alignment in favor of a more dramatic reinvention of IT. Neil Raden, founder of consulting firm Hired Brains, once called IT/business alignment "a myth" that "doesn't make any sense" and suggested "harmonization" might be a more appropriate goal. Effectiveness, rather than alignment, should be IT's focus, Bain & Company said in 2007. Interestingly, Bain & Company found alloting IT resources to different business units, the strategy seemingly favored by Hinssen, often resulted in increased cost, complexity and inefficiency.
And cost is a huge consideration right now. As IT Business Edge blogger Loraine Lawson wrote earlier this year, IT's need to make do with less has always made it difficult to provide long-term solutions aligned with business goals, but this is especially true in today's economy. Said Loraine:
Business leaders should acknowledge their role in creating the integration- and agility-system problems that will most certainly arise down the road. But IT also needs to recognize there are tough decisions to be made in this economy. The focus has shifted from "doing things right" to survival, and that means everybody has to make do-including IT. That means letting go of "doing things the right way" and instead doing the best you can with what you have.