Technology, Cloud

"I'm so done with alignment."

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It's not often I use a quote as a headline, but this one in a column by CIO Magazine editor-in-chief MaryFran Johnson grabbed me. Rather, it struck me full force. 

The words are from a CIO, who followed up: "It's not even part of the conversation anymore. IT and the business are in this together. Period."

This particular CIO said this at CIO Perspectives Forum, a conference in New York where others of their ilk in the room nodded in agreement, according to Johnson's column.

Can you see where this is going?

CIOs are moving beyond the notion of aligning IT with the business. Now, they are part the business as opposed to externalized. Aligning IT with the business suggests that IT is out of aligment and marginalized. If you have to align IT with the business, there's a problem.

After all, you don't align finance with the business, do you?  

It's a put down, too. As Johnson points out, alignment also means "order taking and playing catch-up with business strategies that were thought up in boardrooms where no CIO was present."

CIO Magazine just published a cover story on the topic: "IT Value is Dead: Long Live Business Value"  

Is this view overly optimistic and assume more progress has been made than actually has? And why did IT and the C suite take so long to embrace business value?

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Discussion
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PaulM
Paul Muller 119 Points | Wed, 12/28/2011 - 09:36

Interestingly, the only time we have alignment discussions in my organization is when two or more teams have been left apart for too long, executing against different agendas given to them by different leaders. 

I agree that Business/IT alignment as a concept is a non sequitur, but *organizational* mis-alignment is as old as people. 

Your post prompts the question - has IT simply been given different marching orders to their organizational peers or does one or the other group feel they don't need to check-in with the other as frequently as they need to?

ventis911
stephen agar 1 Point | Fri, 05/27/2011 - 21:48

In 2005/6 I led a large IT team moving then to head up a company whose mission was to help CIO's in a previous life I crossed swordswith a very successful CIO who was focused upon IT alignment. Icould never understand why he wanted to be so external to the business and embarked upon a mission to disassemble the IT function and rebuild it as part of the business as a whole. 

The following is the last paragraph of a blog I made in 2006 after speaking at several conferences about how IT should be part of a business not aligned to it as if it were running itself as a separate entity with its own separate agenda. 

 

"We can summarise the route to action and to sensible IT integration into its organisation regardless of how strategic or inconsequential IT currently is to the business and to the chief protagonists.
We can also recognise that IT has an agenda also. A historically under invested poorly executed function will for a time neither have the credibility or capability to do much more than try to align itself with business intent where as a mature, dynamic, empathetic IT organisation can go beyond alignment and begin the more inherently valuable activities driven from true business integration of its IT dimension.
Ultimately IT can only have an agenda that suits the business it works with in, but to deliver IT in a manner consistent with good governance, good stewardship of assets and investment and if you really want it compliant with an ever changing steady state of architectural best practice and technical capability you have to go beyond aligning IT with the business and become part of it at every level. Embrace the difficulties arising from conflicting goals and do the right thing in the right way for the business, ultimately that’s also the right thing for IT too!"

 

Well not a lot has changed in many businesses, IT still has an agenda that talks about its success in terms of IT accomplishments not business delivery to a strategic theme.  CEOs in my experience, and I have been CIO and CEO so do appreciate both roles, want direct reports that help them achieve business results, anyone who doesn’t walk that walk may be respected as crucial but isn’t going to be part of the A team.

More to the pity I can report when I took up my first role as CEO the existing CIO's agenda and interest were so far out of sync with the actual business he was in there was no point having him in the senior team, he was a quiet passenger  meetings chirping up only when a tangible technology issue was raised. A good CIO knows marketing, HR, Finance in the same way as those other CxO's understand each others.

Alas, many gifted IT executives are fabulous at running IT efficiently but not necessarily effectively, there a hundreds of reasons why this is so, not least the need to keep so many governance processes in place and delivering just to maintain the budget. Two of the main areas that a CIO needs to address before he or she will be invited to report to the CEO are 1) embed IT culture into the business ( that is the transformation agenda) and 2 talk only about how good things can be achieved, using IT or not, keep the techie talk for meetings with IT functional leaders.

I propose that 5 years on from alignment being dead my agenda is now about transformation, it is no longer about changing the IT team to fit in it is about changing the business to be better incrementally and strategically, its a blend of psychology, technology and vision realisation ( the vision of the comany ). Transformation, this is the CIO agenda now - and many will have to reskill to bring that about.

 

creagh.warren
Creagh Warren 1 Point | Thu, 05/19/2011 - 01:38

This isn't particularly revolutionary and I doubt there is any debate with these thoughts - from a CIO's perspective. Certainly the comments about this already being the case in large organisations is likely true but for the rest of the world I would go so far as to suggest that the great majority of companies aren't as forward thinking. Quite simply, everything ultimately revolves around money, so Finance is obviously going to be 'one' with the business but IT has traditionally been seen as a cost rather than profit centre and most companies are still only starting to see small glimmers of understanding how IT can truly fit in with the business as an essential part. As an example, you will still find many CIOs reporting to CFOs, rather than CEOs. I know for a fact that many industries - particularly some world reknowned educational institutes - still struggle to see IT as much more than a slightly bigger home network. CEOs and other executives who have been around for many years and achieved their success without much assistance from technology are often blind and deaf to the potential of IT. Articles like this are written by CIOs with cushy jobs in great companies who have apparently forgotten what it's like to be in the trenches.

jdodge
John Dodge 1364 Points | Thu, 05/19/2011 - 13:21

The fact is after attending the MIT SLoan CIO Symposium yesterday, I realized what I already knew. - the CIO's world is rife with high falutin' and amorphous concepts such as transformation, agility and business alignment (market speak, to be honest). It was interesting that it was often the professors and other non CIOs who talked about them the most.

The CIOs talked about what they were actually doing. The devil is always in the details....and that applies to a lot of professions including my own (journalism).   

PaulM
Paul Muller 119 Points | Wed, 12/28/2011 - 09:39

and with that simple post, the nail is hit firmly on the head...

You've elegantly stated what I've long believed, IT is an apprenticeship, learned and improved by doing.

jdodge
John Dodge 1364 Points | Wed, 12/28/2011 - 13:28

Thanks, Paul, for picking up on this eight month old comment. Reality check!

PaulM
Paul Muller 119 Points | Thu, 12/29/2011 - 05:23

It popped to the top of my reading list, I didn't realise I was time travelling! ^_^

sukumard
Sukumar Daniel 1 Point | Wed, 05/18/2011 - 14:16

Hi,

I would like your opinion on how business value can be achived without aligning IT to business. 

I have come across multiple situations where IT is really afraid of the business. Alignment really means that business treats IT as any other resource it uses like a factory for instance and IT behaves like a good service provider towards a valuable customer.

 

jdodge
John Dodge 1364 Points | Wed, 05/18/2011 - 23:08

Treat IT like a factory!? That's very old school.....

jdodge
John Dodge 1364 Points | Fri, 05/13/2011 - 20:37

Mark,

That some are not there is the reality...Down with alignement is easy for CIOs to say when surrounded by others CIOs. But business value is the direction if not today's reality.    

markmontgomery
2025 Points | Fri, 05/13/2011 - 20:32

I don't think it ever was an issue with higher performance organizations and CIOs -- a fairly good definition of dysfunction is a business unit of any kind, much less one so critical as IT, that does not fully embrace the mission of the organization. Unfortunately, many business units are not so aligned--otherwise crisis would not be as common. That said, I'd be insulted as well if anyone questioned my alignment as CIO in an organization. I would add, however, that alignment is primarily the CEO and board's responsibility, including with recruitment, leadership of the culture, and importantly in crafting compensation schemes.