The challenges of business and IT alignment have been well documented. However, I see the use of the term “alignment” as the main issue to discuss here today. Alignment suggests that there are two separate (and autonomous) entities attempting to dictate common goals. And all too often, that is exactly what occurs.
For example, the business entities in an organization acquire new software (or systems) without the knowledge of IT. They then hand it over to IT with the expectation that it will just work. On the other hand, IT sometimes has initiatives that it pushes onto the business entities without first consulting them, or even considering the effect it will have on business workflows. Each side continues to pursue their own interests thinking that they each know what is best overall.
So today I propose we start thinking about alignment differently. Today I propose the marriage of business and IT.
First we must understand what makes marriage different from alignment. With a marriage, two entities put aside their separate agendas to work for the ultimate good of the new single entity. Although each entity still has individual needs to be met, they do so with knowledge and understanding of the other side. These newly joined entities work toward the common good of the organization, resolving their disagreements together.
As in any marriage, there are three key challenges that must be identified and handled for the partnership to be a success.
- Communication: The primary key to any successful marriage is communication. Both entities need to have an equal voice in the overall goals and strategies of the organization. IT must have a voice in the business goals of the organization, and the business entities must have a voice in the IT goals. This equal representation will establish a common platform, one that will drive the business forward.
- Planning: Most organizations have a business (or strategic) plan in place to guide the organization over the next several years. Too often these plans are developed without consulting IT, which sometimes results in reactionary measures. IT may then scramble to develop their own plan to work around what they have been given. There must be an equal voice on both sides to develop a single business-IT plan. This will ensure both entities can properly plan for any obstacles, and are both prepared for the future.
- Compromise: You must be prepared for the fact that despite all the planning and communication, you will not always get what you want. IT is going to want that brand-new, lightening-speed system—but there is not going to be enough money for it. The business is going to want an upgrade in the next three months—but there are too many dependencies to get it done in time. While each entity will want to fight for what it believes is most important, there must be some give and take. This means that both entities have to be willing to compromise. One side always relenting does not make a very happy marriage.
The above three points are clearly interrelated. Compromise will not work without communication and planning. A solid and united plan is not possible without communication and compromise. Planning and compromise will not occur without solid communication between the entities. Just like a real marriage, a strong commitment must exist for the partnership to succeed.
Achieving this marriage is difficult, but if you can get both entities to buy in to the idea, you will move your organization beyond business-IT alignment and into a cohesive team working towards a common purpose.