12 December 2009

Alignment - Why is IT singled out?

Everywhere you look these days, there are articles stressing the need for business and IT alignment. A CIO.com article calls it the 'holy grail'.

Why is IT singled out in the call for alignment and what exactly is 'the business'? In his blog, Joe McKendrick claims that IT is part of the business and therefore alignment is not an appropriate goal for IT. I tend to look at a business in two parts: one is the operations-side, focusing on producing outcomes for the companies clients and the other provides support to the operations and monitors compliance with regulations. This support side typically includes Finance, Human Resources and IT. Why is then that when I searched on "Finance Business Alignment" the articles I found were on managing the IT portfolio expenditure not how the finance function may better support the operational outcomes of the business?

Like IT, both Finance and HR are endeavouring to free-up resources from transactional processes to enable investment in providing strategic services to optimise operations. This is coined as "Strategic HR" or "Strategic Finance". Is there a difference between the end state, which is being sought after through business-IT alignment and what could be coined as "Strategic IT"?

If the true intent of business-IT alignment is for IT to be a strategic partner, where does this leave the idea of alignment? Isn't the selection of "Enterprise Alignment" as a blog name somewhat inappropriate? Maybe, but in my travels implementing bespoke and ERP systems in large enterprises, I have seen many disconnects in business processes. Some of these disconnects were between activities within one function, like payroll and others became evident when functional boundaries were crossed (for example between HR and Finance).
For me the idea of enterprise alignment is for an organisation to breakdown its traditional stovepipes and align its activities throughout. In today's enterprise, IT is uniquely positioned to see these disconnects as it touches all (or nearly all) aspects of the business. I see concepts like Enterprise Architecture and Service Oriented Architecture as well as technology like Business Process Automation having the potential to bring-out the disconnects and forming a key part of the organisation's journey through the continuous improvement process. The question is how IT's role in the journey will be perceived by the organisation? Will it be as a partner and enabler? I think that may be what IT-Business Alignment is striving towards.

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