IT business alignment is about ensuring that every action and initiative by IT professionals delivers business value. Achieving this means going beyond alignment and instead reaching ‘Business Convergence.’
IT/business alignment isn’t a new idea. When IT operates as a separate entity, technology is delivered in a disjointed way by people disconnected from the realties of the business. All too often, IT works in a contrasting bubble which any business hoping to maximise the potential of technology needs to pop. This means that IT is often seen to be self-serving and divorced from the operational and strategic aims of the organisation.
This is why for many years, we’ve been discussing IT/business alignment as a way of breaking the walled-off IT and making it more in-tune with the needs of the business. Sadly, despite IT/business alignment being a high profile challenge, very few businesses have mastered it. Now that IT is so critical to the success or failure of business, the imperative is getting stronger. IT must prove value and contribute. In other words, we must ensure we are delivering IT with Purpose.
Why is it, given that the problem has been identified and is relatively easy to understand, has it not been solved? Why do so many organisations still have a distinctly separate, reactive IT department, rather than a joined-up technology resource?
There are a myriad of reasons. The most obvious problem is that it is hard. IT is a fairly unique business function and in business terms is relatively young. Therefore, undoing the mindset and processes which have been used to underpin the rapid expansion of IT that most businesses have experienced is undeniably a major challenge. But these challenges are not insurmountable and there’s certainly been plenty of time since recognising the IT/business alignment challenge to make the necessary changes. Therefore there must be something else getting in the way.
IT/business alignment is problematic because it’s the wrong approach. To reach the desired state, e.g. one in which IT (or any traditional service provider function) and the business merge into a cohesive, collaborative whole, IT/business alignment seems like the solution. But it is, in fact, the problem.
The problem with alignment is that the IT department is always playing catch up. It is expected to subserviently observe the business and reactively strive to deliver solutions. IT/business alignment encourages an unhealthy inequality.
Let’s be clear at this point. IT alignment is a preferable state to the IT silo situation from a business perspective. IT needs to be less dictatorial. It must do a much better job of giving the business what is needed. Therefore, to a certain extent, IT/business alignment should be explored and encouraged. But to reach our preferred end state, in which IT With Purpose is observed, we need to consider this problem in a different way.
We need a different approach. At Sollertis, we call this Business Convergence.
What is Business Convergence?
Business Convergence is very different to the approach of IT/business alignment. Instead of retaining an IT department which then has to ‘tow the line’, Business Convergence proposes something more profound, and yet seemingly obvious. Business Convergence means merging the IT and business function to such an extent that there’s no longer an IT ‘department’. Under the terms of Convergence, IT is the business, and the business is IT. Let’s be clear, when we say IT we mean Business Technology and the application of Business Technology to reach, perform and exceed the objectives of the business.
Our thinking is that IT is simply too important and too ubiquitous to separate out in the ‘old school’ way. IT must become integrated to such an extent that we forget about IT service and technology solutions, and instead think purely in terms of ‘business capabilities’ and ‘business value’.
Convergence is about equality between business and IT. Rather than attempting to react to the business agenda, IT will help set it.
For sake of clarity, let’s look at the three stages of maturity:
The IT department operates as a separate, relatively autonomous entity. It delivers technology and services based either on what it thinks the business needs, or what the limitations of technology allow it to deliver. Communication is limited and an elitist ‘them and us’ culture is prevalent. Neither the business or IT is especially happy. The communication layer takes place via IT performance only; there is no correlation between IT performance and Business performance.
IT is making a concerted effort to listen to the business, following trends and trying to deliver solutions accordingly. This is a better state for the business and the quality/suitability of IT delivered will almost certainly improve. But IT strategy trails the business strategy and it divorced from the priorities of the business. Imagine communication along a chain where the message gets distorted and misinterpreted at every link in the chain. It is hardly surprising that the result is still disjointed and far from converged.
The distinctions between IT and ‘the business’ are so slight that they effectively disappear. The business is comprised of staff who collectively set and pursue corporate objectives. Some of these staff happen to be more technically gifted and understand how to steer ideas and innovation against business drivers and priorities.
The key to Business Convergence is equality and a relentless focus on value. There’s no more ‘them and us’. It is people working together for the good and value of the business, and harnessing technology as just one of the tools to achieve these goals.
Of course, just like striving for IT/business alignment, Convergence is a major challenge. But the difference is that the approach of Convergence is positive and fair, as it treats everyone within the business with respect. And the beauty of an approach rooted in positivity is that it likely to deliver a long lasting cultural change, rather than a short-term improvement. This positivity will mean that the ultimate aim – IT With Purpose – becomes far more achievable.
How can you deliver IT with Purpose? Download our Beginners Guide to BRM here www.link.link.