Business-IT alignment, a bad term (part one)

The summer is always a good time to step back and look at what you are doing. While I enjoyed the nice weather in the south of France and watched my kids play on the beach I thought about why I dislike the term ’business-IT alignment’....

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The summer is always a good time to step back and look at what you are doing. While I enjoyed the nice weather in the south of France and watched my kids play on the beach I thought about why I dislike the term ’business-IT alignment’.


I know, I am a workaholic: you should not spend your summer holiday thinking about these kinds of things. I just like my work so there you go…


So, I dislike the term ‘business -IT alignment’ and this is mainly for two reasons. In part one I will discuss the first reason: the term suggests that the business is one consistent entity that can easily be represented and is consistent in its requirements, demands, needs etc.


I have never seen an organisational chart were there was one organisational entity marked ‘business’ as opposed to an entity called "IT". I have seen however names like ‘Sales/ Marketing’, ‘Logistics’, ‘Finance’, etc. All of these entities combined we call ‘the Business’. We look at all the requirements of all these entities and if we have our house in order we combine them into this thing called the ‘IT service portfolio’.


In case the organisation has not adopted the service oriented approach we might call it the “IT application portfolio”. But in most cases we will identify a limited number of services to be used by multiple business entities. The requirements for each individual service will be a combination of all the requirements from the different user groups.


Quiet often you will find that one or more user groups do not see any connection between their personal requirements and the combined end-result. Of course this triggers reactions like “IT doesn’t listen to my requirements” and “IT doesn’t understand me”.


For good reasons this approach of un-differentiated products (or services for that matter) was advocated by Henry Ford when he said: “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black”.


Let’s face it, it worked for Henry Ford…..in 1909! If you walk into a Ford dealer these days you will quickly learn this dogma was dropped somewhere along the line.


On the other hand it is suggested that one of the reasons General Motors is in so much trouble these days is because the endless variation of brands, types and features they offer in their cars makes it impossible to achieve the economy of scale an organisation of that size must achieve in order to effectively compete.


So what is the lesson for the IT domain? Well, basically the era of one-size fits all has passed. Customers and end-users are so accustomed to getting products adjusted to their personal requirements they will no longer accept the undifferentiated approach of most IT departments.


If I want to buy a PC for personal use I go to the Dell site and can get it chipped and tuned anyway I please and indeed even in multiple colours these days.


If I then turn to my corporate IT department and get to hear that I cannot have the application I clearly require because it is not in the standard configuration my thoughts are clear: inflexible, doesn’t understand me, stone-age and a few more negative ideas about IT will enter my mind.


However, before we now instruct our IT departments to start saying “Yes, sure whatever you want” we do need to realise there is one thing worse than saying no: Not being able to deliver on our promises.


So have a look at the dogmas and structure of your IT department and bring it into the 21st century. Variation of services to meet the needs of your individual customer is the new reality. But before you start the internal marketing campaign, you should organise the department so it can actually deliver in this more complex environment.


By Arno Kapteyn


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