Aligning IT with the business is not enough

IT's clients demand it, but what value does it hold for its consumers?

We've all heard the mantra: IT must be aligned with the business. And it rings true, too. Except when it doesn't.

If IT and the business don't synchronize their goals, direction and timetables, the result can be a number of mismatches or cross-purpose activities: The business might be focusing on becoming a low-cost provider while IT is pursuing a premium path. Or it might be planning to significantly shrink its operation in Asia and double it in Europe, just as IT is preparing for slight growth in both regions. Even business models can be misaligned, with the business deciding to distribute authority and responsibility while IT remains centralized.

So, yes, the mantra strikes a chord in all those cases and more. How, then, can IT go wrong with a strategy of aligning with the business? The answer is that it is a mistake if it is IT's only customer-oriented strategy. Why? Because while aligning IT with the business is a big hit with IT's clients, it does very little for IT's other customer group, its consumers. (For a more detailed discussion of the distinction between customers, clients and consumers, see "Customers and clients and consumers, oh my!")

Technology consumers are the part of IT's customer base who generate the revenue that supports the large paychecks for both senior business managers and IT staff. As such, what they want and need from IT is worth paying attention to, but IT's treatment of that group has changed little over the last decade.

Certainly, aligning the business and IT is a good way to get IT's clients on board the IT train, but it will never have a direct impact on the working life of the IT consumer. The next time you face a group of surly IT consumers upset that the system is down, that functionality is missing or that IT hasn't shown up when expected to fix a problem, try telling them to rejoice that the IT and business strategies are aligned.

By all means, IT needs to work on alignment, or whatever else will please IT's clients, but IT must also focus its efforts to satisfy the IT consumer. The challenge will be finding, funding and executing programs that satisfy both groups. If IT's clients want IT to curb escalating IT costs while IT's consumers are clamoring for new services or updated hardware, then IT will have its hands full. How well IT handles this seeming contradiction will be the challenge that separates the worthy IT senior managers from the crowd.

George Tillmann is a former CIO, management consultant and the author of The Business-Oriented CIO (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). He can be reached at


Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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