How To Get Beyond Alignment

 

It’s the perennial issue for many CIOs and often the No. 1 challenge for new CIOs: “How do I align IT with the business?” And while this is perhaps the most important challenge for IT groups struggling with a bad reputation across the business, it’s certainly not the most important challenge for IT groups with a solid track record of success. For these teams, the challenge is how to move beyond alignment.

In the report Beyond Alignment: BT Strategic Planning, I highlight how critical it is for IT to help formulate business strategy. The research suggests that how a firm develops and manages business strategy is pivotal to the question of how IT can move beyond alignment. Unfortunately, there are a number of challenges with this:

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Isn't It Time To Move Beyond Alignment?

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.  

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Netflix Revises Strategy ..... Again!

Netflix has come to its senses and revised its strategy in favor of the customer. After a recently announced decision to split out its DVD business from its streaming business, Netflix received a barrage of criticism from customers -- including my last blog post, where I questioned the wisdom of this strategy. Today, CEO Reed Hastings announced a 180-degree about turn -- well done Mr. Hastings. While it would surely have been wiser to have made a better strategic decision in the first place, changing course in face of customer criticism at least shows Netflix is still willing to put its customers first.

This turn of events highlights the difficulty of getting strategic planning right. While abstract analysis of strategic options may point to an optimal choice for any set of circumstances, any strategic analysis which ignores customer impact is fatally flawed. As my colleague Luca Paderni and I pointed out in our recent keynote at the Forrester CIO-CMO Forum, companies must become customer obsessed. Indeed, we highlighted Netflix as an example of a company that had succeeded in large part because it was customer obsessed and had mastered the customer data flow in a way that increased customer value.

There is a lesson here for us all ... success in the future will go to those companies willing to become customer obsessed and put the customer ahead of Wall Street.

Netflix: Can A Company Really Be This Inept And Succeed?

NetflixIf you thought Netflix handled its earlier price increase badly, just wait till you hear the complaints about its latest move. In a letter to subscribers sent today, Reed Hastings, Netflix Co-Founder and CEO, opens with:

“It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming and the price changes.” – Hmm, perhaps a little bit of an understatement! (Read the full text at the end of this post.)

So members like me might be lulled into the false impression that this letter was going to be an apology in an attempt to smooth things over. Boy, was I wrong. Instead Hastings goes on to say the following (my paraphrasing, not his):

  • Because you are such a good customer, renting both DVDs and streaming, we’re going to degrade your service.
  • We know you like the fact that you can easily move movies between your online queue and your instant queue, which is why we’re going to stop you from doing that.
  • We know you liked the fact that a movie in your DVD queue is added to your instant queue automatically when it becomes available for instant viewing – so we’re going to stop allowing that.
  • We recognize that our website, with its easy-to-use features is one of the reasons you use our service, so we decided to give you twice the benefit by breaking it into two websites and asking you to use the two sites instead of one.
  • We won’t be increasing our prices as a result of reducing your service levels – we already did that.
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Define Your Social Ecosystem

One of the many interesting topics of discussion we get into in our Social Business Strategy workshops is around the social ecosystem. This is the name I have given the collection of business capabilities potentially enhanced by one or more social technologies.

First let me define social technologies. Note I’m using the word “technology” quite deliberately in place of the more common term “social media” because social media is too often associated with consumer-facing technology as deployed in support of marketing. In defining the entire social ecosystem I prefer the more generic “technology”. I define social technology as “any technology that enables one-to-many communications in a public forum (or semi-public if behind a security firewall)”.

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Are You Ready To Master The Customer Data Flow?

If you read my last research report and previous blog post, you’ll know that I’m working with Luca Paderni on a series of research reports examining the IT and marketing relationship. In particular, we’re examining what IT and marketing are doing to master the customer data flow (see Figure 1).

 IT and marketing must collaborate to master the customer data flow

At the upcoming CIO and CMO forum, Luca and I will be presenting a keynote examining the readiness of IT and marketing teams in today’s organizations to master the customer data flow. The really cool thing is that you can help shape the outcome by participating in a very short survey we are conducting in conjunction with Forbes. The survey asks a number of questions around the interaction between IT and marketing and can be answered by either IT or marketing professionals.

Don’t put it off, please take the survey now,  share this post, and receive a complimentary copy of the summary results.

If you are a CIO or CMO of a $1 billion+ organization, please also consider participating in our ongoing research by contacting our research associate Lauren Blackburn at +1 617.613.6500.

Is Marketing The Biggest Opportunity For IT Since The Internet?

In today’s fast-paced global economy, examples of how empowered customers and citizens use social technology to influence everything from brands to governments are all around us. The Arab Spring clearly shows the ability of technology to empower people. In this new digital age, marketing teams must react at the speed of the market: Product development life cycles that used to last many years are compressed into months or weeks; customer service expectations have moved from same-day response to instant response; public relations snafus must be handled in minutes rather than days; marketing campaigns are adjusted in real time based on instant feedback from social media. In this new era, mastering customer data becomes the key to success and, in my opinion, represents the biggest opportunity for IT to impact business results since the dawn of the Internet.

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How Successfully Is Your Organization Using Social Technologies?

Let's face it, there are plenty of examples emerging of organizations doing great things with social technologies -- but just how many are having a measurable impact on their organization's goals?

If you think your organization is already doing great things with social technology you may be right. If you are seeing measurable results, I encourage you to nominate your organization for a Groundswell award.

What's a Groundswell award? Josh Bernoff, one of the authors of Groundswell, explains the history of the award in his blog here. Each year we review multiple nominations across various categories of social technology use; we identify the examples we believe best demonstrate the criteria for winning each award. We have categories that include internal and external uses of social technologies, and we're especially interested to see examples of strong collaboration between IT and Marketing. This is the fifth year we are running these awards (you can see past winners here and a full list of award categories below).

The 2011 award categories include:
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Isn't It Time CEOs Were Held Accountable For Technology?

I realize I'm posting two rants in a row here (my last one was on marketing being a dirty word), but this is important! I just read in the WSJ that it's time more CIOs report to the top... my initial reaction was "oh come on, really, are we still on with this old chestnut?" -- the thing is, I couldn't agree more. But here's what gets me -- we were saying this in the '80s. The hope back then was that, as more CEOs stepped up who had grown up with technology, things would change and more CIOs would report into the CEO. Clearly this was pie-in-the-sky optimism ... so what went wrong?

Traditional wisdom (aka analysts) suggests that it's up to the CIO to "earn" a seat at the table by demonstrating leadership, delivering business value from IT, and lots of other hoops to jump through. While my colleagues and I work diligently on research to help CIOs achieve this, I can't help feeling there is an alternative perspective we are missing, and that's what drove me to write this blog post.

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When Did Marketing Become A Dirty Word?

I'm going to date myself here, but in the early 90's when I was working in IT, I created a new role: "IT Marketing and Services." In defining the role, I was quite deliberate about my choice of words -- especially in the use of "marketing." This role was responsible for all customer-facing aspects of IT -- that included IT business relationship managers (yes we had them back in the early 90's), help desk, training, communications (of the PR kind), demand management and planning. I chose the word "marketing" deliberately to reflect the fact that this was a customer-facing responsibility (both internal IT customers and end-customers of the business from a technology perspective).

Twenty years on, and the number of IT professionals who really understand marketing and recognize the importance of marketing as a key component of IT operating strategy has, if anything, declined. Why?

Often when I ask CIOs today about the role of marketing in IT they are overcome with concern about using the term "marketing" in the context of IT. They believe people across the organization will think there is no role for marketing in IT, and that having anyone with a "marketing" title will suggest IT has too much money. Why does this fundamental misunderstanding of marketing perpetuate throughout organizations? So many otherwise knowledgeable executives think marketing is simply advertising or worse "spin." Do "marketing" job titles in IT really suggest that CIOs are trying to "sell" IT to the rest of the business? I wonder if this is a problem for IT or if it is an issue created by the perception of others outside of IT.

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