Should business align with IT?

For years, IT leaders have been talking about business alignment.  And we should continue to do so.  IT, after all, exists to support the business.  So it's important that IT investments and efforts align closely with the key objectives of the business.

And IT can, of course, do a better job of aligning itself with the business than it already does.  We can better understand the businesses we support.  We can be more diligent about tracking our resource allocation relative to the priorities of the business.  We can also help business leaders better understand what it is we can do for them.

It does, however, take two to tango.  So while IT continues to try to better align itself with the business, it might also make sense for the business to participate more aggressively in achieving that alignment.

Here are a few suggestions about how that might happen:

Better define business goals and priorities.  It is hard to hit an invisible target.  So if the business can't articulate a vision beyond "sell more and spend less," IT isn't going to have much to align with.  It is therefore incumbent upon business leaders to clearly articulate well-defined goals.  These can be as specific as "Reduce turnover of our most profitable customers 15% by quantifiably improving their experience" or "Increase sales through our European dealer network 20% by offering more aggressive discounts to top performers and out-servicing the competition."

Get smarter about what IT can actually do.  Sure, IT can spend some of its time and resources educating the business about the potential benefits of technology.  But business leaders who depend exclusively on their internal IT peers for insight about how technology impacts corporate performance are abdicating their own responsibility.  Lessons in the value of technology are everywhere, including our own personal experiences on the web and on our smartphones.  Everyone should be learning them all the time.

Put some skin in the game.  Line of business managers often take a cynical and unhelpful attitude towards IT.  They put less than intense effort into the requirements process, and then remain standoffish as IT tries to hit a moving target.  It's as if they think the success or failure of IT projects were IT's problem. It isn't.  It's the whole company's problem.  So rather than challenging IT to rise or fall on its own merits, the business can recognize its responsibility to stay engaged throughout the project lifecycle -- and maybe choose to be more "How can we help?" than "I told you so!"

It should be noted, by the way, that IT has actually moved the needle quite a bit when it comes to aligning with the business.  Agile development is eliminating catastrophically misguided software projects.  Virtualization is vastly improving allocation of infrastructure resources to business needs.

So maybe IT shouldn't take all the heat when it comes to alignment.  After all, IT isn't just a function that supports the business .  More and more, it is the business.  That's something business leaders need to recognize.

Are you finding that business users are getting better at helping IT do its job?  Or is the business remaining less-than-helpful even as demands on IT grow?  Feel free to share your experiences and solutions below.

Chris O'Malley is CEO of Nimsoft.  He has devoted 25 years to innovation in the IT industry -- most recently growing businesses in cloud and IT Management as a Service solutions. Contact Chris via the comments below or via Twitter at @chris_t_omalley.

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