IT’s Interest in Business/IT Alignment

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Bob Lambert says IT should take the initiative in solving problems  of business/IT misalignment, and thinks the requirements process can be an effective vehicle for reaching out. I agree.

I could come up with  a number of reasons why IT has an interest in being the one to reach out, but one reason in particular occurred to me as I was reading through Lambert’s post.

Certainly, both sides have a part to play, but IT should take the initiative not only because they possess the “knowledge that business people need in order to maximize the value of IT and efficiency of business processes”, but because, in essence, the business is the customer and corporate IT is just another vendor.

Now more than ever, business folks have a wealth of outsourcing and off-the-shelf purchase options that place homegrown IT in the position of having to compete for business. If IT doesn’t present a compelling value proposition and make the effort to align with the business, then someone else – who is willing to work harder at it – will.

Regarding use the requirements process as a vehicle for reaching out, Lambert has this to say:

In many organizations IT manages the forum in which these conversations can occur: the requirements process.  In my experience a good requirements process is long enough for the business and IT teams to get to know each other, offers generous opportunity for both structured and unstructured conversations about business needs, and brings together knowledgeable business and IT participants.  IT is typically able to bring the insights of seasoned application developers to the fore in a well planned requirements effort.

Yes, everyone has responsibility to “cultivate personal relationships based on mutual need and respect,” but IT can and should bring substance to the relationship in requirements definition.

I could say, “amen” and leave it at that, but as an analyst I will add that I think that an IT organization that brings a true “help me help you” attitude to its interactions with the business during requirements gathering can do a lot to build ( or smooth) relationships and align organizations. To do it right, more give-and-take may be required at a planning or steering committee level, but don’t discount the value of initiative taken at the grassroots!

Also, to give credit where due, I should note that Lambert’s post is actually a response to Ara Trembly’s original article, Business/IT Misalignment: Whose Responsibility? (isn’t the blogosphere great?). I’d encourage you to give Trembly’s article a look, too for full context.

So, what are your thoughts on how best to align business and IT?

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About the Author

Jonathan Babcock is a management and IT consultant with expertise in business analysis, process optimization and solution delivery methodology. Practical Analyst is his outlet for sharing what he’s learned, and for interacting with solution delivery professionals across the globe.

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6 Comments

  1. Not only will I not discount the grassroots effort of relationship building, I’ll argue that it really resides there for the most part. The bonding that needs to occur at the requirement gathering sessions may be spurred on by executive action, but it is the “little people” that must gain one anothers’ trust and cooperation to make it successful.

    Being a little person myself in the corporate machinations of application development, and an analyst, I feel like I play a key role in making this happen not just to do my job, but to help my customer help me. You couldn’t have stated it better, and though cliche, it’s true. My customers know I have their back and I know they’ll break theirs trying to help me.

    DougGtheBA

  2. I hear what you're saying, David, but it's one thing to say that it's past time for business and IT to be aligned, while in the real world there are still plenty of examples where they are not.

    In the cases where they are not aligned – for whatever reason, I think the notion on the part of IT that "we're part of the business, so the business has to work through us" is a one reason we see companies strip down corporate IT and outsource work to leaner, hungrier operations that promise to better meet the needs of those critical consumers of the company's product.

  3. JB,

    Sorry to say that I disagree with "Business is IT's Customer"; the only customer that counts is the person or organization that is buying the products/services your whole company offers. If one part of a company can arbitrarily choose not to work with other parts of a company, the whole company is still paying for the other parts to exist. This always comes up with IT because of its size, but do you allow this to happen with HR, Legal, or Accounting? It is past time for IT to 'align with the business', all parts of the company are the 'business'.

    Running a business is tough work, and I am not offering any one magical way to overcome that, but treating one part as customer and the other as vendor is not the way. For IT departments faced with this situation, however, the other option is to go all-in; spin IT into a real separate company, sell your services back to the remainder of the original company, and go looking for new customers too. Now that's a business…

  4. Sure, any part of a company that has an inflated sense of itself is a prime candidate for outsourcing and such. Isn't Business Processing Outsourcing, or using Indian call centres the same thing?

    Maybe what I am looking for is the means to align everything in a company, i.e. why is it always IT in the spotlight? Sales/marketing is often out of alignment with product development and delivery/manufacturing.

    And yet the IT focus remains; I need to read "The Geek Gap" again (recommended reading!).

  5. Hey David:
    While I agree with "the only customer that counts is the person or organization that is buying the products/services your whole company offers" per your post, the reality is that many IT orgs don't have direct access to external customers. We rely on the portions of the organization that we can provide direct value to, e.g., sales, marketing, etc. I don't see this alignment issue as treating one portion of business more as a customer than the other; it's a matter of removing barriers no matter who we work with on the business side.

    Alignment of IT/Biz cannot solve the world's problems, but we can make an exceptional difference in the ability of internal business to be able to function with external business, thus generate more revenue. All it takes is a change of mindset many times and the willingness to also change the way we actively interat with our partners.

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