Don’t ‘align’ – Integrate!

‘The goal of aligning the use of IT systems more effectively with the ambitions and desires of ‘the business’ is now firmly established as a major priority in many organisations.’ This opening paragraph of Tony Lock’s article today on IT Service Management goes on to say that an early desire to work out how IT budgets were being spent has evolved into ‘an attempt where possible to align IT resource usage with goals set by the business itself’.

‘Where possible?’

While I’m delighted that ‘IT alignment’ is increasingly on board agendas, we really do have a long way still to go – conceptually, as well as in practice. There is still a widely-held and deep-seated view, primarily amongst the IT community, that the IT organization is a seperate organization from ‘the business’ (what I call the ‘two empires model’) and that, for instance, IT resource usage goals should be primarily set by the IT people.

This, of course, is nonsense. Shareholders appoint directors to be responsible for the whole of the business, and they expect (by law and by custom) their appointed directors to act in the interests of all the shareholders and across all aspects of the business. The board is responsible for governing IT and all responsible boards will ensure that their IT functions are integrated into the business, and that IT resource usage goals and priorities are exclusively set by the business – the business, after all, is the reason why the support functions exist.

Boards, and IT leaders, need – as I argued in IT Governance: Guidelines for Directors – to engineer a significant shift in the governance of their enterprises so that IT starts delivering on business priorities. The level of IT investment, and the sheer cost of the long-term and ongoing IT failure to genuinely enable the business means that, sooner or later, business managers are going to cut down the IT organization.

For IT leaders, therefore, the long term choice is between integration into the business, as a key strategic contributor, and subordination to the business, as a basic utility. Integration is the best outcome for everyone; subordination, on the other hand, would be better for the shareholders than continuing the current, common, two empires model.