Don't Align With the Business, Integrate Into It!
CIOs' top concern continues to be aligning IT with the business, according to a new SIM survey. Instead, Larry Bonfante argues they should integrate IT into the business.
By Larry Bonfante
Every year The Society for Information Management (SIM) surveys CIOs to understand their top concerns. For as long as I can remember, the top concern continues to be the perceived challenge in aligning IT with the business.
This topic is a pet peeve of mine! I don’t believe in IT and business alignment. It suggests that there are two separate entities—the business and IT—and that they are not working together. How many of your CFOs or CMOs ask themselves if they are aligned with the business? Probably not a lot! If you asked them that question, they would look at you funny and state in a matter-of-fact manner that they "are" the business. Well, so is IT!
I don’t believe in alignment, I believe in integration.
IT needs to be integrated into the very fabric of the business, and this includes being part of the strategic planning and thought process of the business. In too many organizations IT is an afterthought. Once the business gets a project or idea to the 10 yard line they think “Maybe there’s some IT thing that has to be done. Perhaps we should reach out to them.” At this point, the ship has already sailed.
At my organization, we work hard to integrate some of my most senior leaders into actual business units. They eat, drink and sleep the issues of the business. Many of our partners in the business view them as part of their team… and they are! While they may be on my payroll, the fact is they are employed for the sole purpose of understanding what the business is trying to accomplish; contributing to the thought process, strategy and innovation of the business; and bringing technology solutions and capabilities to help address the business’ problems and opportunities.
These are people who can “speak business” (unlike the ones who can only speak “geek”), who understand how the business works and how the processes they use integrate across the enterprise. They have business acumen, as well as technology savvy, and can speak to the business in their own terms. They also serve as tech-minded mentors in helping the business leaders think about potential projects where technology can drive business outcomes. These projects are owned and sponsored by the business, not by IT.
Are you running an organization of pocket-protector geeks? Or are your people capable of understanding and speaking the language of the business? Are your leaders focused on the major initiatives of your organization and how to gain a competitive advantage in your vertical industry or are they focused on acronym soup like SaaS, SDN and IaaS?
Remember, if you want to be thought of as a part of the business you need to think, act, talk and function like a business executive, not like a nerd. If enough people actually start working this way, the annual SIM survey might come up with a new top concern for CIOs!
About the Author
Larry Bonfante is a practicing CIO and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at Larry@CIOBenchCoach.com.