Business to IT alignment is an objective that most technology and business leaders would agree as essential for agility. However, ask for a definition of Business to IT alignment or how to implement an alignment strategy and the likely results are conflicting information and vague guidance. In the following blog I will try to add clarity to this topic as well as provide practical guidance.
Let’s start with a basic definition of Business to IT alignment by addressing some common misconceptions. Business to IT alignment is far more than just Project Portfolio Management (PPM). Business to IT alignment consists of several domains:
Several Tier I & Tier II ERP software vendors provide software solutions to address certain Business to IT Alignment requirements, including PPM and Communications (social collaboration). However, it is important to remember that technology alone is not the answer. Collaboration tools can be used to generate more noise than effective communication. Also consider that having strategic initiatives stored in a common platform (ex. PPM) does not mean the all stakeholders share a common interpretation.
Just as Business – IT alignment is more than just PPM, enterprise governance is much more than just IT governance. In simple terms, enterprise governance is a process that ensures that enterprise capacity (Business, Operations, IT) are working on the right things at the right time to enable business goals. It’s a set of guidelines that focuses on organizational success while managing associated risks. Alignment is hard to achieve when governance is not consistent across the enterprise. Knowledge transfer is the most underestimated and misunderstood area. Effective knowledge transfer is more about education and trust than software and templates. Before one can be successful with Business – IT alignment it is important to fully appreciate the scope and breadth of effective alignment. A viable alignment strategy must address the key challenges listed in the next section.
The Challenges of Business to IT Alignment
Consider the following alignment model. This is a very simple model that I would like to use for discussion purposes.
Allow me to highlight some key challenges associated with the traditional alignment model provided. First is the notion that Business and IT operate separate silos. Notice in the example above that there are separate Business and IT goals. Thus, there must be an exercise to reconcile Business goals and IT goals to identify commonalities and gaps. Practically speaking, given the level of effort required to align these separate strategies, a reasonable conclusion is that alignments occur periodically based upon corporate milestones. This is where the model breaks down because effective alignment must be a daily activity. Every business request from strategic initiatives to daily support tickets is an opportunity to reinforce alignment. Another possible concern implied in this model is that the majority of alignment effort happens at the enterprise level. Sustainable alignment must happen at every level within the organization.
A results-oriented alignment strategy must address the inhibitors of alignment. Consider the following relationship between alignment and communication:
Success alignment requires successful communication. Successful communication requires the effective use of all the key communication skills
Process is important but the soft skills like communications, emotional intelligence (empathy), and knowledge transfer will have the greatest import on long-term alignment success.
Practical Steps to encourage Alignment
Before you can start implementing practical steps you need to assess the level of alignment within your organization. The Strategic Alignment Maturity model referenced below was developed by Dr. Jerry Luftman and is based upon the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI).
Once you have identified your current maturity level then you can devise realistic, increment steps to move forward to the next maturity level. It is also important to periodically assess your organization’s alignment. What gets measured gets done!
Why is Business to IT Alignment so hard? Consider the following statements to highlight the key challenge with alignment.
Is Business to IT alignment an impossible goal? No, as long as a practical, measured approach is taken to achieve tangible results. Business to IT alignment is a strategic goal that can only be reached by taking tactical steps to bring Business and IT closer together to generate mutual understanding and trust. When alignment is achieved communication is effective resulting in valued partnership.