How to Make IT-Business Alignment a Reality

CIOs advise embedding IT staff in the business, focusing on business processes and leveraging business mentors

Kevin Summers, Corporate VP & Global CIO, Whirlpool

Embed IT People in the Business

An IT strategy that drives and enables business objectives is a critical component of any organization, but it alone will not result in alignment. You must have the right IT leaders working with people in the business to make the strategy become a reality.

After an analysis of how best to meet the needs of the business, we integrated our regional IT groups into one global organization and created business engagement teams. These teams, embedded in the business units, consist of people able to engage the business in both process and strategy, while explaining IT's capabilities and aligning with our IT Roadmap. They also share global IT best practices with the business and highlight where these can be effectively leveraged. The teams provide a greater awareness of our business partners' needs, and with that understanding comes the ability to focus IT spending on programs that better serve Whirlpool products and customers.

Roman Coba, CIO, McCain Foods

Target Business Processes

My underlying theme when talking about alignment to anyone in the company is the opportunity to gain greater value from current or planned IT investments. We cant do that alone; the bulk of that value comes from improved business processes. So I have the dual goals of selling the business on the idea of letting IT lead process reviews and instilling a business-focused attitude in my team. Neither can be achieved overnight.

The first requires a true partnership. If business units see us as an adversary in any way, they won't let us influence or change their processes. My own relationships at the executive level are critical to this, but trust must exist down the line through constant reinforcement of being a business-focused IT organization. In my weekly managers meetings, we do a review of the business first—financials, market trends, priorities and concerns—and then talk about technology-specific issues. This cascades into every IT group, and as CIO, I am a vocal evangelist through town halls and newsletters.

Joel Schwalbe, SVP & CIO, CNL Financial Group

Seek Business Mentors

IT, quite simply, is part of the business, and if we don't think about our role like that, alignment won't happen.

Our Business Sensibility Program is designed to enable this way of thinking. The core of it is a mentor program that every IT employee is strongly encouraged to participate in; metrics for it are integrated into their performance appraisals. I asked our IT Governance Committee, made up of all the C-level executives, to encourage their people to be mentors because an IT group that understands the business can only make the business better. That got their initial support, but more than a year in, they've said that they are learning as much from us as we are from them. And we're learning a lot, gaining intelligence through this less formal interaction to inform project and system initiatives that we would never have had otherwise. We've had some terrific experiences, and now we are gathering specific ideas from the mentors—such as suggested books, papers and other readings—to improve the quality of the relationships across the board.

Summers, Coba and Schwalbe are each members of the CIO Executive Council, a global peer advisory service and professional association of more than 500 CIOs, founded by CIO magazine's publisher. To learn more visit council.cio.com.

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This story, "How to Make IT-Business Alignment a Reality" was originally published by CIO Executive Council.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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