IT, CIOs are frequently advised, needs to be aligned with the business, and alignment, we\u2019re told, is mostly a matter of effective IT governance.\nAlignment is better than misalignment, I suppose, but in the end it\u2019s weak tea. Add overreliance on IT governance as the means for achieving it and you turn IT into a stifling, choking bureaucracy, not a more effective organization.\n\n[ Learn the new rules of IT-business alignment in the digital era and why IT-business alignment still fails. | Find out what your peers are up to with our 2020 State of the CIO report. | Get the latest insights by signing up for our CIO daily newsletter. ]\n\nWhat\u2019s the superior alternative? Focusing your efforts on integrating IT into the business, not just aligning IT with it. That\u2019s integration, as in taking all the steps necessary for IT to be, and to be perceived as being, integral to every aspect of the enterprise.\nThat\u2019s the subject of this first article in a series I\u2019ll be rolling out over the next few months called \u201cBuilding effective IT 101.\u201d\nAlignment is no longer enough\nThe term \u201cdigital\u201d has been used and abused enough over the past few years to make a person cynical, but it does have a few shreds of meaning left. \u201cDigital\u201d becomes more than just a management buzzword when executives recognize a tectonic shift in the business world that snuck up on most: that there is no work of any kind that gets done without the use of information technology anymore.\nNone.\nInformation technology is no longer a case-by-case choice requiring a careful cost\/benefit analysis for each implementation. Nothing your business does happens without it. That\u2019s the essence of digital-ness, which is one reason IT\/business \u201calignment\u201d is such a limp CIO goal.\nBusiness applications are built into the organization\u2019s business processes. Often that\u2019s saying it backward: The organization\u2019s business processes are designed around its business applications.\nInformation technology \u2014 the stuff, not the organization \u2014 is integrated into the business whether anyone likes it or not. Why would anyone think that could happen well if the IT organization is merely aligned?\nRelationship vs. governance\nAccomplishing true organizational integration is easier to advise than to achieve. IT governance isn\u2019t going to do the job because by their very nature, governance structures and processes are designed to separate IT from the rest of the business, leaving the \u201crest of the business\u201d to keep a wary eye on IT lest we spend time, effort, and budget on the dreaded \u201ctechnology for technology\u2019s sake.\u201d\nIt isn\u2019t that IT governance is unnecessary. It\u2019s that IT governance should be thought of as guard rails. It\u2019s IT\u2019s relationship with the rest of the business that acts as the street signs and lane markers that inform everyone of where they\u2019re supposed to go and how to arrive there without making a mess of things.\nWhich is why redefining IT\u2019s relationship with the rest of the business, and managing it better as well, is essential to building an IT organization designed for the modern enterprise.\nBack in the industrial age of IT, business alignment was the logical consequence of defining IT\u2019s relationship with the business as a supplier selling its wares to its so-called \u201cinternal customers.\u201d This worked after a fashion, although nobody ever really meant \u201ccustomer\u201d when they used the phrase. If they had, IT wouldn\u2019t have expended so much effort trying to stamp out \u201cshadow IT.\u201d\nIf you were Home Depot and not internal IT, and the rest of the business was supposed to be your customers, you wouldn\u2019t refuse to sell one of them a ceiling fan, even though an improperly installed ceiling fan can cause serious discomfort when it falls on the hapless DIYer who missed a step or two.\nWhat you would do is have a conversation about which other products and tools they\u2019d need to install the ceiling fan so it stays on the ceiling, circulating air like it\u2019s supposed to. You might also suggest they buy a dehumidifier, to further increase their summer comfort.\nThe rest of the business isn\u2019t IT\u2019s customer. To integrate IT with the rest of the business, replace the whole internal customer fallacy with: a vocabulary that relies on ideas like partnership and collaboration; conversations centered on improving business process effectiveness, not on application deployment; and especially establish a shared emphasis on the value that IT and its business collaborators can jointly create and deliver to the company\u2019s Real Paying Customers.\nDo that and you\u2019ll find that IT governance, with all its committees, rulebooks, and processes, takes a back seat to the redefined, trust-based relationships that are the hallmark of an IT organization that\u2019s achieved business integration.\nRedefining IT\u2019s relationship with the business\nRedefinition is only half the battle. It changes the nature of the relationship, but the quality of the relationship matters even more. And that\u2019s a matter of trust.\nEstablishing trust requires changing processes, practices, and methods. It requires changes to the technical architecture in all of its layers and interdependencies. And most important, it requires change to any factor that fosters or inhibits top-tier human performance. (Subsequent articles in this series will cover these topics in more depth.)\nCIOs, like all leaders, aren\u2019t responsible for getting anything done. They\u2019re responsible for building organizations that get things done.\nCIOs can and should redefine IT\u2019s relationship with the rest of the business. CIOs can, and should, make it clear that IT is a peer, partner, and collaborator with everyone in the business who makes use of information to get their job done, which is to say, everyone in the business.\nBut making this real? That has to be the job of everyone in the IT organization \u2014 not as an added responsibility piled on top of their day jobs, but built into how they think about doing their day jobs.\nIntegrating IT into business strategy, too\nThat leaves one more aspect of IT that\u2019s integrated into the business: providing business strategy leadership.\nEven \u201caligned IT\u201d is deeply involved in business strategic planning. It has to be, given that IT is usually the bottleneck when it comes to turning strategic intent into an executable roadmap.\nBut active participation in creating the business strategy Gantt chart is more a matter of self-defense than integration.\nA tried-and-true framework for defining business strategy is SWOT, which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. But in reality, it should be TOWS because weaknesses and strengths have meaning only in the context of competitive threats and opportunities.\nIn this day and age, the most significant competitive threats (if competitors pursue them) and opportunities (if your company goes after them first) come from new capabilities provided or enabled by information technology innovations.\nSo, while IT management and staff are busy integrating into the rest of the business, CIOs need to just as busily integrate themselves into the executive leadership team (ELT) and its strategic planning process.\nBecause who else in the ELT is in a position to recognize new IT-driven capabilities that matter, as well as being able to articulate what it will take to add them to the corporate arsenal of competitive competencies?