IT/Business Misalignment: What We Have Here is Failure to Communicate

Ann All

Just the other day, I wrote about a minor brouhaha over the phrase "IT/business alignment," the latest in a long series. Peter Hinssen, a consultant and instructor at the London School of Business, told CIOs attending a recent CA event that IT needed to "fuse" rather than align with the business. I noted that Hinssen wasn't the first to take issue with the "alignment" term and offered examples of others who have urged CIOs to focus on "harmonization" or "effectiveness" rather than alignment.

 

David Ratcliffe, president of Pink Elephant consulting, is another naysayer. Writing on the company's blog, Rarcliffe says alignment wrongly implies that IT is separate from the business. That's pretty much what Ajei Gopal, CA's executive vice president of technology products, said in the article I cited in my previous post:

 

Alignment is a horrible word because it's a term that suggests IT and business are two different parts that need to be aligned. [IT is] something that's core to the business. They are fundamentally intertwined.

 

Integration with the business is what IT needs to attain, writes Ratcliffe. He says this means making sure IT knows the business objectives and provides IT services to enable and support them. Sounds simple, no? And yet it's obviously not.

 

SearchCIO.com's Karen Guglielmo thinks IT/business alignment is fine, although it needs to move beyond aligning common goals to aligning processes and metrics. (I've got advice on better aligning metrics, gleaned from Jim Quick of Diamond Management & Technology Consultants.)


 

I think the IT/business alignment issue is fundamentally about a lack of communication. Sure, IT needs to know the business objectives. To do so, it must communicate with the business. Yes, IT should align its metrics and processes to those of the business. Again, communicating with the business is the logical first step in doing so. If the two sides can communicate, then they can begin to collaborate on solving organizational problems and achieving organizational goals.



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Aug 31, 2009 2:41 AM David Ratcliffe David Ratcliffe  says:

Interesting discussion. The words "alignment" and "integration" etc are all useful - in the right context. However the real issue - in my opinion - is whether the folks in IT see themselves as in the IT business, or in the business of their organization as a whole, such as banking, car manufacturing, whatever. (Is a plumber working in a car plant in the plumbing business or the car manufacturing business?)

If IT folks see themselves as part of the greater business, then there's a much better chance that IT will be aligned, fused, integrated (chose your favourite word!) with the business. If they see themselves as in the IT business - and they're not a managed services provider - then there's a real danger of a disconnect between the two.

So, it's not only a communications issue, but also one of attitude and culture.

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Aug 31, 2009 11:15 AM Miichael Harris Miichael Harris  says:

This is an interesting and important thread.  I'd like to add something for people to think about - especially in these times of increasing auditability and accountability - IT Governance.  We follow (and help our clients follow)  the principles established by Weill & Ross from The MIT Sloan School that its all about decisions: What decisions are important at the business-IT interface, who (which individual) makes them; and how do they make them (e.g. how has input to the decision).  I suggest checking out Weill & Ross's book "IT Governance."

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Sep 3, 2009 4:23 AM m ellard m ellard  says: in response to David Ratcliffe

Well said!

There's a post that I refer to often because I think it gets to the heart of it it - and really in this case it addresses both your post and the two responses here:

http://ebs.pbbiblogs.com/2009/08/03/data-governance-its-everbodys-business/

the post is about how data governance is a) critical and b) everybody's business.

Saw a recent study (can't put hands on it now) that cited how few IT people really felt that they were plugged into and contributing to the goals of the businesses they worked for.

There needs to be better communication, more of a sense of responsibility to the corporation at all levels of the corporation, and there needs to be governance - rules of the road so that people know how to act on their responsibilities - and that applies as much to IT as anyone!

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