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What IT/business alignment has in common with the TSA

I’ve been thinking a lot about Harman CIO Michael Ali’s discussion of IT/business alignment. We spend of lot of energy in IT worrying about how to align with the business, while our users are figuring out ways to circumvent IT completely. New initiatives are exciting within the organization, but users tend to view changes by what they can’t do instead of what they can, which is hampering IT/business alignment at its very core.

Then I had a flash of inspiration on the problem of IT/business alignment (bear with me): I travel a lot, both for business and pleasure, and like George Clooney in “Up in the Air” I have the security check down to a streamlined dance of removing my bag of liquids and my laptop from my bag and taking off my jacket and my shoes practically in the same motion. I used to be really grumpy about the TSA’s various regulations, but now I am just resigned to it as part of flying. I knew my spirit was officially broken when I had to choose between being photographed by the backscatter machines and being frisked by a TSA agent. (How bad has it gotten when walking around in your stocking feet at a public place is the least silly part of a process?)

IT is in danger of becoming the TSA of the organization.

If you were to measure the company’s general feel for IT outside of the department, would the employees be excited about what you’re accomplishing, or would they grumble about the firewall or how IT’s BYOD policies won’t let them legally use their iPads on the network or the fact that their laptop’s processer dates back to the Cold War? At my last company, I still remember the shock and awe when IT finally gave its blessing on a company-wide IM protocol. Instead of being excited about having new technology to play with, there was a huge rumor going around that the IT department was giving us IM to be able to spy on our conversations. Ridiculous, but true.

Crazy paranoia aside, think about how IT is perceived by the people who work in production or marketing or human resources. Do those people believe — really believe — that IT is enabling their productivity, or do they grudgingly feel like IT is holding them up when they’re late for a deadline and demanding that all of their liquids be placed in a quart-sized Ziploc bag? Think about how employee suggestions are considered: Is the first instinct to say “No,” or do you embrace IT innovation from everywhere in the company?

“All of the data suggests that midmarket companies will lead the economic recovery, and all of our data shows that those companies that leverage and exploit IT will be at the head of the pack,” said Andy Monshaw, general manager of IBM global small and medium-sized business division.

So forget about IT/business alignment, and worry about IT’s serious image problem. It could have an actual and measurable effect on your company’s bottom line.

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