What do we mean when we say 'business-IT alignment'?

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We talk about business-IT alignment, but what does that really mean? Here's a look at the business strategic plan and the corresponding IT strategic plan, and how to align them to maximize value.

In prior columns I've written about the challenge of business-IT alignment.  However there are many that believe the work "alignment" should be replaced with the work "convergence." What does convergence mean? According to Webster’s definition, convergence is “the act of converging and especially moving toward union or uniformity.”  When you use the word alignment, it  implies that there are two separate entities trying to work together but still remaining separate.  The reality is that roles/activities that were traditionally embedded in the IT are now embedded in the business. It is not merely “IT-Business Alignment” anymore. IT-Business convergence means that both entities are moving to become one unit.

Figure 1: Business/IT Alignment

Business-IT Alignment

So what does the business/IT relationship look like in many organizations?  Figure 1 shows the visualization of the way many organizations separate business and IT.  There are two distinct divisions - business on one side and IT on the other. In the business side we have the business strategic plans or business requirements.  On the other side we have the IT group. This group is further divided into two separate sections: strategic and tactical.

Are you can see, there is a visible gap between business and IT. And this is where the discontinuity or misalignment between the business and IT begins. In an ideal world the business requirements/plan drives the IT strategic plans. But it often does not. The business speaks a totally different language than IT (and conversely IT speaks a different language than the business). In my  article "How effective communications can improve the IT/business relationship" I discuss in detail these  challenges. From the IT strategic plans come the tactical solution initiatives. Ideally this tactical solution should be driven by the IT strategic plan which in turn is driven by the business requirements. On the IT strategic side we need to make sure we are getting value from our IT solutions.  In addition we need to make sure we are getting value on the business side. And these two values should be related.  That is, if we get a perceived value from IT but not from the business then we have a problem.  It means that IT is delivering solutions they think is of value to the business when in fact it is not.

So the question now becomes: "how do I close that gap?"  One strategy is the use of Business Relationship Managers or BRMs. A BRM is pivotal to the convergence of IT resources to business needs. BRMs have an understanding of business processes and how IT solutions are or ca be deployed to meet the business requirements. In fact there can be two types of BRMs. The "Strategic BRM" is positioned between the business and IT. The Strategic BRM acts as the translator, liaison, and diplomat between the two groups. Their job is the build, develop, and nurture relationships with key business and IT stakeholders. The "Tactical BRM" on the other hand assists in the coordination of  application and infrastructure  projects. They also interact with business management and key users to ensure they understand and are making full use of the system capabilities.

Take a look at your organization.  Is there a perception that the business and IT are traveling down separate paths? In my previous article: "What does the business think about IT?" I discuss the challenges of a divided enterprise. For more information on the Business Relationship Manager, checkout the BRM Institute.

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