Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Aug 30 2016   2:42AM GMT

The IT – Business Alignment Paradox

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

Business alignment
IT Business Alignment
IT strategic planning

A lot has been written on this subject over the years and has also been intensely debated in various circuits. The task of aligning IT with business has probably been the most talked-of topic in the IT Management area. Quite a few seminars and talks on this subject that I attended, did talk of a host of issues but the sessions did not leave me any wiser at the end. The discussions were generic in nature and talked of the virtues of IT-business alignment and the attendant benefits. In vendor sponsored seminars, vendors took the center stage and spread out wisdom with a promise to help CIOs achieve their objective. CIOs who were invited to share their great experiences, took the platform to speak on the topic from their own perspective, often laying emphasis on issues that were specific to them which may or may not have added value to the participants in general. It is possible that some benefitted but there is no way of knowing if the CIO participants applied this knowledge in their work place and came out trumps.

In my conversations with our fellow CIOs, I found them to be aware of the subject and they understood the need to get along with business and to work with them. They all spoke the right language and professed to be on the right path. For instance they talked about the need for alignment, about talking the business language rather than technology jargons with the management, on working out a strategic plan of IT and about having a vision for their area of operation. All of this is surely encouraging and indicates that all is fine with our profession.

The other side of the story is however shows a little contrast. When I speak to CEOs and other business heads of a few organizations, there is generally an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with many of them expressing a general disconnect with IT. For example when I was called by the CEO of a fairly large sized organization, I was at a loss to understand why I was called as the organization had a good IT set up and spoke of a very successful implementation of ERP & so on. However when I met the CEO and raised this question, he replied saying he was aware he had a very good IT set up but did not know what he got out of IT. I was then asked to undertake a review and point out areas for improvement and connect with business.

Where are the CIOs stuck ?

Many of those in the CIO position have a technical background, either by virtue of their qualification or by training. They work hard, manage to keep the lights on with respect to the IT facilities and provide great support to the organization in implementing new technology solutions. They are quick learners and get to understand some aspects of business when developing systems for various domains. However it is possible that their orientation and thinking are good but not good enough to make them business centric and this could show up in their conversations with the management or from their responses to various business challenges. This expectation of them, often hyped, causes confusion and they often end up chasing this elusive orientation game without too much of success.  While saying so I do exclude those who have done very well and may also be on the Board or in the Executive committee team of the company.

How to get back into reckoning ?

The only way to win back the pride of place for CIOs will be to equip themselves with the requisite capabilities required of them. Those who are young can take off and acquire a management degree or do a part time course. Some senior CIOs who have learnt various aspects of business while on the job, would do good by sharpening their skills with short term courses with management institutions. Reading articles and books by renowned authors is a wonderful way of assimilating knowledge that could change our paradigm. Other ways could be to learn under the tutelage of a senior management person or to seek mentorship thereby displaying a firm desire to learn the ropes and be of value. Those who have worked in management consulting firms earlier could be in a better position to handle this challenge. However it is not just about understanding business but also of acquiring soft skills which include leadership, communication skills, project management, negotiation skills etc.

The path is not easy but is definitely essential for CIOs to tread on. With new positions like the Chief Digital Officer, Chief Knowledge Officer etc. evolving, it is important that CIOs do not lose the opportunity to be counted and they certainly wouldn’t want to be bypassed. Adaptation to the changing times will be the key for their survival.

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