Posted by Alex Cullen on April 28, 2010
Business-IT alignment is one of those persistent "Top 3" CIO issues. It has been this way just about as long as I’ve been in IT. You would think this would have been solved by now. After all, you put in business-driven IT governance, relationship managers, and some really nice dashboard, and you’ve covered about 90% of the advice out there. I’m going to suggest that business-IT alignment is being held hostage by complexity. Not technology complexity, since business leaders seem to be coming to terms with that. And not the mind-numbing spaghetti charts that show how complex our application and infrastructure landscapes are. They don’t understand these charts, but since we don’t understand them either, we can hardly expect business execs to. The complexity I’m referring to lies between their goals and the "stuff" IT delivers. They don’t see the connection. And since we see business execs having lots of goals, which shift over time, and strategies that also shift, we can’t show the connection. Instead, we say, "This is what you asked for, and this is what we delivered."
Quick illustration -- this is how it’s supposed to work: The senior execs all share one goal -- say, "be premier supplier of widgets to the traveling business exec," and one strategy -- "design lots of widgets and see which ones people like." This strategy is translated into one program -- "get really good at designing lots of widgets," which turns into one IT project -- "implement new widget design application." Clear connection between goal, strategy, program and deliverable. Well-aligned IT, happy business. What you hear in the real world: "We have lots of goals, it depends on who you talk to." "Our strategy is very high-level because we want to see what people come up with." "Well, of course our strategy changes, things are changing." "Yes, this program may be touching many aspects of how we do business, but we want you to focus on the IT projects." "What do you mean, my IT project won’t get done (or is deferred or maybe canceled) – this is really important to my goals!" "It’s great that you delivered this project on-time, on-budget, but here are a list of changes I need." "You IT guys don’t add value, you are slow and you are not aligned with enterprise needs."
In the real world, companies have: More than one goal once you get a click below EPS and earnings growth. Strategies that are more themes than plans. Business change initiatives that have many moving parts. Change in all of these -- goals, strategies, initiatives. IT project requests that exceed capacity and so only some get done, others are deferred, and others go on the waiting list. IT delivers projects -- some on-time, on-budget but others delayed due to "unclear business requirements." IT did what it was asked, but business isn’t happy, and the result is "not well aligned IT." So what does this have to do with EA? Jeff Scott, in his recent blog, gave the direction, "Before you embark on a business architecture program, figure out what problems you want to solve." One of the key problems is IT-business alignment. Business architecture helps IT-business alignment by helping execs clarify goals, strategies, and the needed changes in the business operating model, and by helping IT understand and deliver to these goals, strategies, and needed changes. There are several approaches to doing this -- we believe that business capability maps – incorporated into governance, relationship management, and IT dashboards -- are the most versatile and useful approach. I’m currently working on a keynote speech at the Forrester IT Forum on this topic. And EA track sessions will go into more detail on how capability maps work to achieve this better IT-business alignment. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue and this blog post, as it will help me develop a better keynote speech.
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