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“IT should not just be subservient to the business”

The Society for Information Management unveiled its survey of top CIO concerns this week. What’s on the headache list? IT and business alignment, the No. 1 issue for four of the past 5 years, reclaimed the top spot after dropping to No. 2 last year. The IT talent issues that dominated year ago — attracting IT professionals and retaining IT professionals, both ranked No 1 last year– slipped: retaining IT pros fell to the No. 8 spot, attracting talent to No. 4.

The survey of 291 companies — 350 company executives — was done in June, and it would be natural to conclude that economic realities have intruded on the profession. In anxious times, people are more likely to stay put, grateful for a job. IT strategic planning, No. 8 a year ago, is up in the No. 3  spot this year, suggesting that hard times call for better planning.

But SIM’s Jerry Luftman, author of the survey, cautioned against reading too much into the changes, noting that in the broad survey  (to be released in November at SIM’s annual meeting) “there is no sense the sky is falling.”

“We do ask other questions vis-à-vis how they allocate their budgets — do they see their budgets going up and down, the picture on hiring, and so on. Knowing what those responses are, it is clear to me that even though the economy is on their minds, things seem to be OK,” said Luftman, whose day job is professor of IS programs at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey.  “We are not panicking.”

Luftman, under orders not to spill the beans on all the findings, said  IS executives indicate they are working closer with their business partners, in order to ward off the “slicing and dicing and panic.”

“Without giving you too much, people seem to be still having opportunities to hire, budgets seem to be staying the same or going up, even with the concerns,” he said.

That actually jibes with what we heard from CIOs in our survey last month and recent prognostications from Gartner and Forrester on IT spending and jobs.

When asked why IT and business alignment persists as a top concern, after all these years, Luftman gets a little hot under collar.

“First, it is that people in academia and people in consulting especially are playing a semantics game. Everybody says there is not an alignment problem-it’s ‘linkage’ or it’s ‘integration’ or it’s ‘convergence.’ All of these different words!” said Luftman. “What we need to do is stop debating what we call it, and focus more on how to address the problem. That is probably the No.1 problem with why this is it is taking so long.”

But here’s the outrage: “We are still focusing too much on how IT is aligned with the business, as opposed as to how IT and the business are aligned with each other. It’s an equal partnership; it’s a two-way, it is not a one-way thing. IT should not just be subservient to the business.”

Funny, I’ve been known to feel the same way.

The Scoop: Server virtualization yes, but CIO heads are NOT in the Cloud

Top 10 management concerns really don’t budge much year over year in the SIM surevy unlike the top technologies, which tend to be more dynamic. And?

After a bit of prodding, he revealed that the although two top technologies — virus technology and business intelligence — again occupy the top two spots on the survey list, the remaining three are all different: business process management (BPM) and continuity planning/disaster recovery are tied for No. 2, and server virtualization makes the top 5 for the first time. Given the case study after case study we’ve been seeing this year about server virtualization, that did not seem too surprising.

“No, but I thought I would have seen a lot more of the cloud computing, SOA and stuff like that,” Luftman said.

So CIOs don’t have their heads in the cloud? “It’s way way down on the list.”

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Good to hear someone else reiterating the importance of TRUE business/IT alignment! Although I would be in the 'consultants' group referenced, I have a real problem with attempts by other big consulting companies to re-define the issue as integration, convergence, etc. when 'alignment' is really the right word. As Practice Director for Business/IT Alignment, I know that this is a real and ongoing issue for our clients, and won't go away quickly since it involves culture, organizational management, communication, relationship management and information technology expertise and management. Usually this requires someone who can see the organization from the outside in and bring a fresh perspective. Some business and IT leaders like to complain about alignment, but they really just want the other part of the organization to change how they work. True alignment is a meeting of equals with respect for what each party contributes to the success of the organization. That's what success CIOs aim for!