Forget “Alignment”

We’ve spent more than a decade in IT talking about “alignment” and “getting a seat at the C-suite table.” In contrast, look at counterparts in Finance, Sales, Marketing or Operations. There is no talk of aligning Sales with “the business,” and rarely do you hear CFOs or COOs lamenting their inability to get the CEO’s ear.

While Marketing and Sales direct all their efforts towards increasing the company’s bottom line, we in IT tend to focus on technology as the sole reason for our existence, rather than the tools of the trade to accomplish the company’s objectives. It’s time for a shift in thinking, and IT needs to see technology as our toolkit, not their raison du être. The best carpenter will work with you to design a new porch for your house, determining how you intend to use the porch, addressing aesthetic and pragmatic concerns, and asking questions you might have otherwise not considered, well before the first nail is hammered. Too often in IT we show up with nails and hammer in hand and start working, when the problem might require a plumber instead. IT’s role should be more about joint problem solving and diagnosis than just implementation.

Rather than trying to justify our toolkit through tenuous ROI and TCO calculations, IT should look to improve bottom line results; technology is part of the solution but not the solution itself. This shift in thinking alleviates the need to debate mercurial concepts like alignment. If you’re working to improve the bottom line like any other business unit, you are aligned. You also eliminate the need to justify IT expenditures. When you’re selling improved market share, rather than a new data warehouse, everyone is talking the same language and focusing on the results, not haggling about whether #2 or #3 nails are appropriate for the project at hand.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for stating it, yes, “alignment” is and should be a bad word with respect to IT. IT guys spouting off “alignment” means that they are not understanding the business drivers – growth or cost reductions – increased profitability.

    I share similar views also on the nature of IT guys to get on with building without knowing what they’re supposed to really build. Need a mindset change amongst IT managers to run their functions as businesses and that will help “align” IT with the rest of the business folk who are trying to improve the bottom line.

  2. Hi Lui,

    Thanks for your comment. Your hit the nail on the head: IT management needs to run IT like a business, not some unique entity that need not apply conventions like strategic and tactical planning, and HR management.

    There are folks in IT leadership out there who “get it,” but I fear they are not yet in the majority.

  3. Ulrich Gotthardt says:

    Thanks for your comments. I totally share your views, but found out that very often business sees us as carpenters and comes to us not with the business problem/issue to be solved but with the solution (in your example: They tell us to do the job with hammer and nails without caring to listen to our advice that a plumber’s tools might be more appropriate).

  4. Ulrich,

    Thanks for your comment. The issue you identify stems from a perception gap in many organizations. Business counterparts see IT as a “one trick pony,” and end up telling you how they want the job done rather than seeing IT’s input as valuable.

    The causes of this gap are too varied to go into here, but at the end of the day IT needs to wage what amounts to a PR campaign to be seen as a valuable contributor and partner, rather than the commodity implementer.

    As a start, I’d suggest some kind of formal investigation into how your organization views it’s IT people. This can be as simple as a few informal focus groups or as complex as hiring an external consultant to tease out IT’s perception. From there, implement high-value activities that demonstrate IT is more than some gear-heads who are good for little more than tickling the plastic keys.

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