There has been talk for a long time about Business-IT alignment (or IT-Business alignment, depending on who you talk to, the business or IT). I’ve always disliked the term, as somehow IT was a separate entity to the business.
Do we talk about Business-HR alignment, or Business-Sales alignment? Well actually we do. HR-Business Strategy and Sales-Business Strategy is a thing. It seems we have a fondness of discussing the business as a separate entity from its parts.
But looking at it from an IT point of view, this doesn’t meld well with what the future of IT should be, or the future of business for that matter. Business should not be separate from the technology that runs it. Business and IT should be integrated into one.
Peter Hinssen calls this state “Fusion” in his book “Business/IT Fusion“; his views reflect mine as to how IT should be positioned within companies. That IT should be at the table when strategies are being developed and helping to map the business direction.
As an extension, the IT department itself should play a pivotal role in helping companies grow and develop, and be seen as far more than a supplier. Hinssen says:
“IT departments should now be instrumental in helping companies adapt their processes, as well as re-engineer, manage, and streamline them. Our building materials are now processes, and we have to become process thinkers, rather than technology tinkerers.”
From this aspect, we need to see IT move from its current role as technologists, to one as consultants to the business.
From my experience, boards and executives of companies are unsure of the value that they are receiving from IT. Many are asking questions like:
- What are we getting of value from our IT investments?
- Why does all this IT infrastructure and services cost so much? What are we getting in return?
The relationship of the IT investments to the success of the business is unclear. As such, IT departments are often pressured to cut costs, and many new technologies and innovations that may improve the business operations are often dropped, such as implementing wireless LANs that improve mobility and connectivity in open-office spaces.
Because of this, the innovation potential within IT is crushed, and as Hinssen says:
“This of course only strengthens the notion that IT is merely a commodity, because most companies have budgeted themselves out of a situation to be able to use IT for innovation.”
Business-IT alignment was meant to take us away from such a situation, but it only went on to cement the status of IT as separate to the business. Not only that, but because the business strategy was created and then handed to IT to implement, it meant that IT became heavily involved in creating services for departments within the business. What sometimes happens is that several members of the IT department become dedicated to certain departments. This leads to very inefficient infrastructure because many services are doing the same thing. So IT is well aligned to the business, but services did not become efficient. This is what Shpilberg et al of Bain termed the alignment trap.
By implementing an integrated environment, we change the dynamic between the Business and IT; it’s no longer us vs them. And because IT is closely tied with the core business, it means that you can have more efficient IT systems that help the entire business, not just individual departments (who may have their own agendas).
For such a change to take place means that the traditional roles within IT would see a great transition. No longer would we have jobs such as Systems Administrators, Network Engineers and Business Analysts, but would have roles such as Consultants, Thought Leaders and Process Thinkers.
The transition may not be necessarily difficult. You can start with the current crop of IT Staff and start teaching them the softer skills that are required. Skills such as active listening, empathy, business writing, strategy and critical thinking. Such skills can be learned (I should know because I’ve done it!).
So does this mean that Business-IT Alignment is dead? No, alignment may play a transitional step towards integration (or fusion if you prefer that term). You should see alignment as a step in the right direction, but not the ultimate destination.
What are your thoughts on Business-IT Alignment and Business-IT Integration?