Strategic CIO // Team Building & Staffing
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2/4/2009
10:47 AM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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Global CIO: Business/IT Alignment 'Is Dead' -- What's Next?

A new book offers a prescription for rethinking the role of technology and getting ready for the post-recession world.

In this latest installment from the Life Is Not Fair department, we return to the issue of whether the dogmatic notion of aligning IT with the business was in fact carved on the stone tablets given to Moses. As you wrestle with the pressures of a global economic downturn and cost-control mandates, it might well be that the very last thing you want to think about are some artsy-fartsy verbal contortions about aligning this with that or leading versus following or anything other than how you're going to get through the next quarter with your company still competing and your head still on your shoulders. However, as this is at least for now the Life Is Not Fair department, you're being asked to keep thinking -- very hard -- about not just near-term survival but also long-term excellence.

Because sometime this recession will be over, and the expense-control boot will be off your neck. Sometime, your customers are going to start returning your calls. Sometime, the CEO is going to come into your office not looking for another pound of cash but rather a new approach for accelerating the speed of your global supply chain. Sometime, the head of customer service is going to stop boring you with collection-agency anecdotes and start asking when the new Web 2.0 customer-engagement tools will be ready. And when that sometime comes, you just might have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to begin pursuing those and many other strategic objectives in an entirely new way that will let you be not just a supporter of business goals but a creator of significant business and customer value.

That heightened success will not come by using the alignment approach of classic times. Because "Alignment Is Dead" -- that's the core thesis of a lively, thoughtful, and tradition-shaking new book from business consultant Peter Hinssen called "Business/IT Fusion: How To Move Beyond Alignment And Transform IT In Your Organization." Here's an excerpt from the concluding chapter:

"Most IT people today are still in denial. They don't really see that things are changing in IT, and that our role and place in organizations has to change dramatically. They don't really feel the changing attitude of the business fueled by commoditization and consumerization," Hinssen writes, placing much of the blame on the Alignment Model that he claims is a failure.

"We've been studying Alignment between business and IT for more than twenty years now. Scores of models have been developed, and enormous efforts have been spent on trying to make alignment work. But the results are horrible. Despite the huge efforts, in money and in people, the gap between business and IT has never been greater and never deeper. The relationship has never been more sour, and the attitude never more hostile."

Well -- there's some cheery talk, eh? But far from being an undertaker who's measuring the IT corpse and scheduling the wake, Hinssen is quite bullish on the massive impact IT will continue to have in all facets of our lives, but particularly on the business end. And from this reader's perspective, Hinssen has a strong background to make such claims stemming from his analysis and research into the impact of technology on society and business, the organizational transformation of IT units, and the unfolding roles of CIOs.

But the huge upside that Hinssen foresees will never come about until we agree to put the Alignment model into the pine box and nail the lid down very tightly. In the final chapter of his book, Hinssen summarizes the choice between the old approach of alignment and the new opportunity of fusion:

"The IT Governance Institute puts it as follows: 'Alignment is not a destination. Alignment is a journey.' But it's a journey without a destination. That's a horrible predicament ... . Alignment is simply a dead-end street. I believe it is time for a new deal. I believe it is time for a complete overhaul of IT, and a complete rethinking of the relationship between business and IT. I believe it's time for a Fusion between the two" because it requires the elimination of the wall separating IT and business around/through/over/under which alignment is supposed to happen.

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