Is Business-IT Alignment Still An Issue?


655176_6609273_lzI was posting on this topic more than 5 years ago (for a selection of posts on this see here) and would never have dreamed of returning to it if it had not been for a flurry of responses to a conversation someone started on a LinkedIn group.  The conversation began with this question:

What can IT do to better align itself with the needs of the business?

Responses were all over the map—some thoughtful, some trite, some tongue in cheek, others dismissive. Some even became argumentative. Most were ‘motherhood and apple pie’—hard to fault, but not very insightful or helpful. Few of them, if any, added anything new. Some shared my view that the whole notion of “alignment” was way past its sell-by date.  A CIO still struggling to achieve alignment has not only missed that boat, but has failed to recognize that for those that must cover great distances, boat travel was replaced by jet travel years ago (to push the transportation metaphor way too far!)

From Alignment to Convergence

As one CIO noted:

That type of [business-IT alignment] thinking went the way of the flip phone many years ago. IT, like all other disciplines, is part of the business—integrated into it. When is the last time you heard that manufacturing, accounting, marketing, distribution, or clinical care is aligned with the business? They are the business, and IT is embedded into each and every one of them.

But while it’s easy to object to the “we/they” language that positions IT as something separate from the business, and interesting to ponder what it means to “integrate IT into the business”, what does that mean in practice?  And how do you get there?

IT Covers Too Much Territory to be a Useful Unit of Analysis

First, I believe it’s important to break IT down into major components. Architecting and operating a shared IT infrastructure (networks, data centers, etc.) is quite different from discovering new opportunities to innovate a business model. Protecting information security and integrity is very different from re-engineering a business process to improve the customer experience. Rather than bundle all IT-related activities under one grand acronym, thinking through the nature of business-IT convergence becomes much more manageable when you think in terms of  7-9 IT capabilities. Some of these capabilities (conceive business value solutions, for example) clearly belong embedded in the “business of the business.”  Others (e.g., manage infrastructure and services) are best managed by specialists and shared across business units and processes as reliable, predictable and well-managed services.

Enter Business Relationship Management

Key to business-IT alignment is the role, discipline and organizational capability of Business Relationship Management. The concept of Business Relationship Management is related to and employs the techniques and disciplines of Customer Relationship Management (CRM). However, while CRM most often refers to a company’s external customers, Business Relationship Management typically deals with a company’s internal customers. Simply stated, IT Business Relationship Management stimulates, surfaces and shapes business demand for IT services and capabilities and ensures that the potential business value is captured, optimized and recognized.

If it sometimes feels like there is a wall between the IT organization and the business it serves, Business Relationship Management represents a perfectly transparent window in that wall—an opening through which the IT organization becomes part of the business it services, and the business becomes part of the IT organization serving it. An opening that magically translates business-speak into IT-speak and vice versa. That allows the IT professionals to become business savvy and the business professionals to become IT savvy. An opening through which business and IT integrate, or converge over time.

Image courtesy of søciety6

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8 thoughts on “Is Business-IT Alignment Still An Issue?

  1. Pingback: Measuring the Impact of Business Relationship Management Capability | IT Organization Circa 2017

  2. In my few words, this is still a major issue!!!! from board perspective to exco perspective Business-IT alignment is their pain, even when we have the King III requirements. This means that either the effort to align or the effort to recognize the need for IT as a value driver is being brushed aside.

    Reply
    • Thank you for the comment, Emmerson! This has been an issue for 20-30 years or more – will it ever be solved while the “business” and their “IT provider” are separate organizations with their own missions, visions and goals?

      Reply
  3. It seems to be a chronic issue – mainly because most business managers still don’t understand IT and/or don’t like dealing with it. They just expect IT to deliver on whatever their latest request may be. Having been a CIO three times and consulting to numerous CIO’s, I understand this problem from first hand experience. Also, all too many CIO’s do not take the time to intimately understand the business and its customers. So both sides need to make more concerted efforts to collaborate better.

    The role of a Business Relationship Manager can help in concept, but I have rarely seen it work in actuality. I believe that there are a few factors that hinder the BRM role:
    1. it is very difficult to find people with the proper skills – this is a difficult role that requires
    knowledge of both IT and the business functional area that they represent
    2. the role typically has insufficient skin in the game – i.e., they are rarely responsible for
    Solution Delivery, so many IT and business managers ignore the BRM
    3. the BRM can easily devolve into another bureaucratic role that adds another layer to
    communication and collaboration

    So the best way to improve Business – IT alignment is through a well executed IT Strategy that is continually refreshed through business and IT capabilities that focus on it (e.g., enterprise architecture planning, solution delivery, IT performance management, etc. Of course, this requires well defined capabilities with resources allocated to support them.

    Reply
    • I have to disagree with you on the BRM role not working in actuality, although I do agree with your factors that hinder the role. The mitigation for these factors is:

      1. Don’t think of BRM as a role – think of it as a Provider capability (role, competence, process, etc.)
      2. Establish the proper “skin in the game” through clear responsibilities and accountabilities.
      3. As a lean, agile, well chartered capability, BRM need not devolve into “another bureaucratic role”.

      Reply
      • I agree with your mitigation actions, but easier said than done. The one time that I did see the concept work was in a mid sized IT function where the App Director served as the BRM, removing the middle man.

  4. Pingback: Strategic Planning and Business Relationship Management – Tips and Traps from the Field | IT Organization Circa 2017

  5. Pingback: Is Business Relationship Management a Job, Role, Competence or Organizational Capability? | IT Organization Circa 2017

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