Whos Out of Alignment?

Opinion: All this talk of IT departments not being aligned with business goals overlooks today's reality.

After years of hearing about corporate information technology departments not being aligned with business, Im boggled as to why this topic seems to keep appearing in the trade press and on lists of IT goals.

What does IT and business alignment really mean? For the CIOs that I know, its always been about business. Is there anything else? After all, for the past decade or two IT folks have been bombarded by exhortations to become more business-savvy.

You would think that, thanks to the appointment of many CIOs with business credentials as well as to the creation of steering committees, executive committees and other committees to identify key business objectives, IT and business would be closer than ever.

Apparently not. Maybe there are some renegade IT shops that are secretly building galactic robots or something else thats alien to business sense.

The issue that never seems to go away is back again, thanks probably to the perception among business folks that IT managers are interpreting and prioritizing the business agenda incorrectly.

In response, IT professionals typically try to reassure their organizations that they have not lost sight of their mission statements and that they are focusing on, above all else, business alignment. Its a defensive posture and is not always convincing.

IT has many business goals—some that are clearly identifiable by various business departments and others that are less obvious.

But what could be more business-sensitive than building an infrastructure that includes reliable and secure networks, strong desktop functionality, and comprehensive file and database systems? Dont these things form the backbone of good business objectives in the same way that heat, electricity, lighting and telephone service underpin the business environment?

Nonetheless, there are those who think that investment by IT in new technology and pilot projects is a reckless use of scarce monetary and human resources.

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OK, perhaps some organizations have been burned by IT dollars wasted on false promises. But it would be nice to see accounting, HR, sales and all other departments explain what they do on a level playing field of common expectations.

I dont recall hearing ad infinitum that chief financial officers are not aligned with their companies business missions. But I am expected to understand and approve when the accounting department spends extra time meeting auditors, tax analysts and general ledger gurus to build a strong, reliable accounting process used by the entire organization.

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The next time someone asks what youre doing with the jargon-y, vague expression of IT/business alignment, ask if he or she really means IT/business fulfillment, and then say that even your most insignificant action is undertaken with only one thought in mind: fulfilling your companys business mission.

Paul C. Tinnirello is CIO at a financial services publishing company. His e-mail address is paul@tinnirello.com. Free Spectrum is a forum for the IT community and welcomes contributions. Send submissions to free_spectrum@ziffdavis.com.

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