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12/30/2004
11:10 AM
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Secret CIO: Business Savvy Is Key To IT Success

We need to stop seeking the impossible dream of business alignment.

It's once again time for the LVRA (Lovelace Verbiage Ratio Award), an honor presented each year to the product or concept with the highest ratio of buzz to demonstrated value. The rationale behind the prize is admiration for the ability of spin-meisters to command massive press coverage without providing the attendant results hard-nosed executives expect for their money.

This year, the award goes to Business Alignment, the magical goal viewed with awe and adoration by just about every information-technology publication, as well as a must-have topic for those nice conferences we attend in warm climates when the weather is cold at home. The recipients, with oak-leaf cluster for meritorious mentoring, are all of those babble-mouths who lecture us about the importance of aligning our IT activities with "the business." Of course, none of these wunderkinder ever bother explaining how you align your IT shop with a business where Marketing thinks Manufacturing is a group of idiots who, in turn, are convinced that Sales is populated by fools promising products that aren't even in the production queue. The only thing they all agree on is that Finance is a bunch of parasites whose job in life is to annoy the real workers. Consideration of IT and Human Resources people is normally left for moments of derision when conversation lags in the dead space between the second and third round of drinks at the local watering hole.

It's not that the savants espousing business alignment don't mean well; it's just that they don't seem to understand what really counts in a corporation. It's business savvy, not business alignment, that separates the winners and losers in the IT game.

We need to stop seeking the impossible dream of "alignment" and instead make sure that information technology is relevant to increasing the company's bottom line. Think the linguistic distinction is meaningless? Did you ever hear a businessperson say, "I want to do better at aligning my products with the business?" No, they talk about bottom-line results and how much they add to profitability, growth, and opportunity. Consider two IT executives. The first says to the CEO, "I intend to align our IT plans with the business in 2005"; the second promises "to make IT more useful to the business." If you don't see the difference, then please consider your career options in some other field.

Information-technology professionals have made remarkable strides in lowering costs and opening business opportunities unthought of only a few years ago. The key to future IT success will be for IT executives to make themselves relevant to the business by finding new ways to increase bottom-line profitability.

We have to know the answers to a few basic questions: What products or services does our company provide? (Sadly, I've met too many CIOs who respond far less knowledgeably to that query than their businesspeople.) Who buys these products and services and why? What issues do our key constituencies (e.g., marketing, sales, manufacturing, and finance), business partners, and customers face? Finally, what can IT do to make their jobs easier and improve our bottom line?

Investing energy in answering these questions will help the business savvy to be successful in 2005 and beyond.

Herbert W. Lovelace shares his experiences as CIO of a multibillion-dollar international company (changing most names, including his own, to protect the guilty). Send him E-mail at lovelace@comcast.net.


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Herbert Lovelace's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Herbert Lovelace, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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