Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Jun 21 2010   5:39AM GMT

IT’s alignment with business: Much discussed, but is it understood?

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

“IT’s alignment with business”. We often hear this line spoken in various group discussions and seminars. But what does this term really mean for CIOs?

Does it mean building rapport with management personnel, or making the right noises in the corridors of power? Does it mean ensuring that IT plans follow the short/medium term business plan (if there is one), or towards your role in providing assistance for various functions in meeting their yearly targets?

For many CIOs, IT’s alignment with business may mean prioritizing projects as agreed with business, or building capability of business to compete in the markets. For others, it could be all about envisioning new areas and opportunities that executives may not have put their thought to.

I was also confused over this aspect earlier, and tried to unravel its meaning. Till then, I had made some IT plans which only I understood (but not the CEO). It took me some time to understand why he wouldn’t comment on my plans. Later I struck gold, and I think now’s the time to share my experience.

When I was with an automobile company, making an IT plan used to look difficult in the early days. Application of IT used to be meager in those days, and users had very little faith in the IT setup. Now, the good part was that I was fortunate enough to be part of the management committee, and therefore privy to discussions on various business issues. I used that information to draw out the main business challenges, priorities and possible solutions—this caught the committee’s attention.

The main concerns at that time turned out to be our ability to manage tremendous growth targets over the next five years, management of material availability, production scheduling, scaling down inventory (while ensuring availability to production), management of working capital, and being in a position to optimize the supply chain. Definition of a few business drivers and a measure of quantification helped me convey the message and draw out an IT roadmap for the next three years. But this was just half the story, since the real test proved to be execution.

Truth be told, the journey was tough, and I often felt like giving up. However, successful implementation of various systems (including ERP) and realization of benefits by the business really caught the interest of various functions. IT was then moving along with business, and all those in power started participating.

Back to the present, we may often claim to have perfect alignment with business, but vendors complain of certain CIOs being rigid when it comes to being open to new solutions. Sometimes, we are apprehensive of talking about technology in certain forums—just due to the fear that others will take us to be pure techies, and not real CIOs.

It sure is a dilemma, but is there a way out?

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