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9/3/2008
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IT And Business Alignment Remains CIO's Top Concern

Other top worries include IT talent-related issues such as "building business skills in IT," according to a Society for Information Management report.

Some things never change. CIOs have the same top concerns now as they did last year -- and in some cases, they're the same worries they've had for decades. It's just that the order of the concerns have shifted a bit, according to a new study released by the Society for Information Management.

What's the number-one worry keeping CIO awake at night this year? Drum-roll, please: It's "IT and business alignment."

IT executives have been losing sleep over that every year that SIM's conducted its survey, which includes annually since 2003, and on and off since 1980. In fact, "IT and business alignment" has been the number-one worry for six years straight, except for last year, when it slipped to number-two, behind "attracting new IT professionals." But it's ranked in the top ten every time SIM's periodically conducted its survey over the last 28 years.

"One would think that over 30 years, with all the smart people, CIOs, academia, it [IT and business alignment] would move further down the list, but it hasn't," said the study's lead researcher, Jerry Luftman, VP of Academic Community Affairs for SIM and associate dean and distinguished professor at Stevens Institute of Technology (SIM).

Nearly 300 CIOs and other top level IT executives participated in SIM's online survey this year, Luftman said.

Other top worries this year include another familiar theme -- IT talent-related issues. "Building business skills in IT," ranked second; "attracting new IT professionals," slipped to 4th place this year from the number-one concern in 2007; and "retaining IT professionals," fell to 8th place this year, also from first place in 2007.

Luftman suspects the two talent-related concerns -- attracting and retaining IT professionals -- slipped this year in part because the SIM survey broke those issues into two different questions.

Nonetheless, CIOs' worries about talent-related issues highlight the difficulty many organizations are having in finding people with the "right" combination of skills, including technical, communication, business, and industry knowledge, he said.

"The more specific the skills sets they're looking for, the harder these people are to find," he said. That also helps explain why "building business skills in IT" held strong this year as the number-two worry.

Reflecting the economy's rockiness, "IT strategic planning" moved up the ranks of top worries to the number-three slot this year, up from 8th last year, said Luftman. Still, even with the shift, Luftman said his research found that "companies are learning how to much more effectively handle fears about the economy, downturns," he said. "They’re not panicking," he said.

Back to the number-one worry -- IT and business alignment: It continues to remain elusive for three reasons, Luftman said. One being that there are "still too many people looking at [the challenge as] "'IT being aligned with business,' rather than it being a two-way street, an equal partnership," he said. "They still see IT as subservient to business."

Another reason IT and business alignment remains elusive is that the lingo keeps changing and the target keeps moving in that challenge. Too frequently, IT consultants use "buzz words, like integration, linkage, convergence" and others in describing the challenge, and so IT and business leaders aren't sure what to address to achieve IT and business alignment, he said.

Finally, over the years, "everyone is looking for the silver bullet," such as thinking they'd achieve IT and business alignment "if [we] had the best technology in the world, the business would love IT," he said. However, in reality , IT and business alignment requires organizations to address about a half-dozen key issues, including communication and partnerships between the business and IT people, metrics, governance, human resources -- having the right skills sets -- and technology.

"Technology is important, but it's only a small piece," he said.

Here's SIM's full list of CIOs' Top 10 IT Management Concerns:

  1. IT and business alignment
  2. Build business skills in IT
  3. IT strategic planning
  4. Attracting new IT professionals
  5. Making better use of information
  6. Manage change
  7. Reducing the cost of doing business
  8. Improve IT quality *
  9. Retaining IT professionals *
  10. Security and privacy *

(*tied )

For additional analysis on the technology job market, check out InformationWeek's 2008 U.S. IT Salary Survey. Download the report here (registration required).

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