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Posted by Nigel Fenwick on October 17, 2011
It's strange, but some things about the CIO role change very little from year to year -- and one of the most consistent priorities for CIOs has always been achieving better "alignment" with “the business.” But should this really be a top priority?
I can’t help it, I really dislike the term “alignment” -- it suggests to me that CIOs are trying to bring together two separate and distinct things: “the business” and “IT.” But the really successful CIOs already know this specific language sets everyone up to perceive IT as something apart from the business. And we all know that every business has technology woven intricately throughout -- to suggest technology is not a vital part of business success is simply wrong. So instead of talking about aligning IT with the rest of the business, we need to focus on ensuring the business is using technology to achieve defined goals and deliver business results.
Unfortunately, for many companies, IT appears to be in the software development business -- responding to “orders” from “internal customers” and busily delivering applications. CIOs need to ask: “what business are we in?” For most CIOs, the answer will undoubtedly NOT be the technology business. For these CIOs, the most precious skill IT can bring to the organization is business knowledge and process understanding coupled with technology know-how. By helping identify how technology can change the business dynamics and move the organization more efficiently toward its objectives, IT becomes the foundation for competitive advantage. In other words, IT needs to be in the business of helping shape business strategy.
Even today, there are IT professionals who simply don’t believe it’s possible to have a seat at the strategy table. Why not? Possibly because IT has historically spent too much time coding and too little time strategizing. But CIOs can change this dynamic starting today. A few months ago we published a report called “Beyond Alignment: BT Strategic Planning” -- since then I’ve presented multiple times on this topic and worked with a number of CIOs to help transform their organizations. As a follow-up, we just published a report with some practical steps CIOs can take to move beyond alignment.
As described in the first report, adopting a business strategic planning framework that successfully integrates technology is a crucial element of getting from IT to BT. But to apply such a framework, IT also must go through a transformation. For CIOs looking to make this journey, it’s important to build upon a solid foundation -- doing the basics really well (keeping the lights on). After this, successful CIOs consistently focus on developing better business communications skills throughout all aspects of IT -- in many cases raising the awareness of IT as a strategic resource. Finally, CIOs whose teams master the art of keeping the lights on and communicating effectively get to see IT invited to influence and innovate across the enterprise.
So, yes -- I fervently believe we need to move beyond alignment. But that’s just my opinion -- what do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Post your comments below, or on Twitter (@NigelFenwick) or on our new CIO community.
Nex post: How To Get Beyond Alignment
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