Thought for the day: Break down the 'us and them' barriers

Businesses should not abandon the idea of aligning business strategy with IT. The key to a successful alignment programme is to...

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Businesses should not abandon the idea of aligning business strategy with IT. The key to a successful alignment programme is to manage and monitor it regularly, says Colin Beveridge.

 

 

 

One of the all-time great rock albums, and a favourite of mine, is Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. This magnificent work has just celebrated its silver jubilee and has enjoyed a spurt of well-deserved publicity in certain quarters.

Twenty-five years on, this classic recording is still going strong and a quick glance at the album tracklist will, undoubtedly, resonate strongly with many of us in the IT business.

I am sure that we can all relate well to concepts such as Time, Money, On the Run and Brain Damage. But there is one track in particular that seems to stand out: Us and Them.

For many years now, as an interim manager and director, I have observed company after company where the IT function refers to everyone else in their organisation as “the business”.

All too often the tendency has definitely been towards an atmosphere of “us and them”. Sometimes this has seriously affected the quality of internal communication and co-operation, leading to an unhealthy pattern of mutual intolerance and disappointment.

Wherever possible, I have tried to promote better communication and understanding across the lines of business by breaking down the virtual curtain of frosted glass that seems to shroud IT from the rest of the organisation.

Frequently it seems, however, that the glass curtain is not just obscured, it’s shatterproof as well.

Is it any wonder then that so many of us are still striving for the apparently unattainable grail of aligning IT with the business?

In some cases, the quest for alignment is truly heroic and fraught with difficulty – but that doesn’t mean that we should abandon our ambition.

Absolutely not – the stakes are too high. We can’t afford to lose sight of the true value of alignment, despite the recent assertion by Jean-Louis Previdi, director of research at analyst group Meta, that IT directors should forget about aligning IT with the business and concentrate simply on being business people, rather than technophiles.

I fully understand Previdi’s comments about our need to focus on business issues, to act like general managers, to run our IT functions on commercial lines, and to abandon the smoke and mirrors of technology.

But I also know from my own experience that a simple change of behaviour alone, or a new cost recovery model for that matter, is not enough to improve the alignment of the business strategy and IT.

Yes, it is incredibly important that we change our vocabulary and attitude so that we speak and act like our business colleagues. But we also need to recognise that in too many cases our business and IT functions are already moving at quite different speeds and, possibly, in quite different directions – usually because of the inherent latency of IT and an unfavourable investment profile over the past few years.

So, in such circumstances, we can change behaviour patterns as much as we like, but it won’t actually improve our effectiveness. We won’t see any real short-term benefit from the brave new lifestyle advocated by Meta’s Previdi, unless we take two vital additional steps.

The first step is to establish an alignment programme, with stakeholders from across the lines of business, not just the IT department. This programme should be charged with establishing alignment between the IT and business functions, by leading us through a programme of convergence and alignment.

Secondly, as we progress towards alignment, we must then successfully translate the alignment programme into a permanent part of our operation. After all, it’s no use going through the pain of alignment if we let things drift apart again in the future.

We have to stay aligned – and the only way that will happen is if we manage and monitor our hard-won alignment. We know too well what happens when we take our eye off the ball – confusion and a lack of competitiveness.

So by all means, listen to Previdi’s advice about being a business professional, but don’t abandon the goal of alignment between the business and IT. Remember to take those two extra steps that I have just described, and let’s show everyone what we can really do when we put our minds in gear.

Then our individual reputations and our businesses will really take off - as the Floyd once sang: set the controls for the heart of the sun!

What do you think?

What steps have you taken to align with the business? Tell us in an e-mail >> ComputerWeekly.com reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Colin Beveridge is an independent consultant and leading commentator on technology management issues. He can be contacted at colin@colin.beveridge.name

 

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