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IT and business alignment: Wrong choice of words?

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in IT over the past few years, it’s that if you say that something will help with “IT and business alignment,” you’re pretty much guaranteed it’ll get some attention. And IT and business alignment continues to top CIO agendas as a priority year after year. So WHY would anyone question the meaning of such a harmonious and universal phrase?

That’s just what David Ratcliffe, president of Pink Elephant consulting, did in a blog posting this week. According to Radcliffe, IT and business alignment is not where it’s at anymore. Instead, it’s about IT and business integration.

Ratcliffe explains that, “if IT is ‘aligned’ with the business that means it’s separate and is trying to line up. IT is not a separate entity from the business, it’s PART of the business.”

I understand Ratcliffe’s’s point. IT does need to become an integral part of the business. And maybe it is time to update the “IT and business alignment” term and mindset. But alignment is still where it’s at. Now it’s a matter of what specifically needs to be aligned. 

Up until now, IT and business alignment was mainly about governance. Companies were setting up formal internal structures for IT and the business to effectively work together toward common goals.

But alignment today should be more about processes and metrics. IT still needs to align with the business on common goals, but it also needs to align on the types of processes and metrics it uses. The IT organization needs to start using metrics that show how technology is positively affecting the business.

The same goes for processes. There are business processes and service delivery processes. Both are run separately but have the same goal of improving the business. By using similar metrics and processes, IT and the business can better communicate and reach common goals.

In the end, alignment is still king. It’s just a matter of taking alignment to the next level.

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First of all, if you remember, boys from HP many years ago said that "IT - is THE BUSINESS". I'm absolutely agree. So, we can't speak about some "alignment".
As I wrote in our Executive Advisory blog[A href=""], [B]synchronization is not alignment.[/B] The need for alignment flows from the idea that you have two diverging paths that need to be converged. Synchronization is the creation of a common path. Synchronization means an end to the business and IT divide by working together and looking for integrated movement and forward momentum. When synchronization exists, there is a clear connection between business outcomes, architecture, projects, infrastructure and the services IT provides. The language used by the business is the language of IT. Technology is not the center of our universe. Instead, our focus is on driving business value. Mike Rollings Research Director, Enterprise Architecture Burton Group
No, Ratcliffe is right. The terminology denotes a separation. There is one business, one organisation. Everybody works for it, even those funny types in IT. Any other point of view invites failures and demands a massive IT cost base. We (the organisation, speaking with my "C" hat on) need to all work towards the same primary goals; it is fear of the new and unknown that has tended to create this split, where "we" means everyone else except IT[1], and IT is somehow to blame for anything that can possibly be seen as in their field of responsibility. Once "we" becomes everyone, IT staff can start making a positive contribution to the business, by providing reliable technology and systems that improve how the business is run. Often this requires the processes to change to gain real benefit; try to keep the same processes while bringing in new technology is probably a waste of the money spent bringing in that technology. Sadly, another fact that needs to be accepted is that all too often the benefits of IT do not lend themselves to being measured. If we invest in technology that improves the communication process, communication itself will not immediately improve; people take time to change behaviours. But that does not make the technology valueless. [1] Except in those foolish and short-sighted organisations where "we" is limited to the sales force or chargeable staff. But surely there are not many of those dinosaurs left...