A Bridge Too Far?

You can't force business units to align with IT, but you can make yourself--and your organization--more valuable.

October 24, 2003

2 Min Read
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Most companies are counting on one or two "magic answers," Luftman maintains, when effective business-technology alignment entails mastery of at least six complex processes: focusing on the right technologies; striking a formal partnership that includes business champions of IT projects; instituting proper governance so IT resources are allocated efficiently; improving cross-department communications; hiring and promoting the best people; and managing IT projects like assets in a portfolio. In Luftman's view, companies are furthest along in IT governance, weakest in partnership--though on a maturity scale of 1 to 5, even the tech-savviest companies rate an average of 3 across all six processes.

Some people misinterpret this imperfect state of affairs to mean that sales, finance and other non-IT execs must be calling the technology shots, because they control the purse strings and manage the revenue streams. The evidence suggests, however, that technology decision-making is very much a collaborative endeavor, even if the collaborative process stands to be improved.

When Network Computing asked readers recently, who initiates IT projects at their organizations, 46 percent of the 2,313 respondents said IT, 32 percent said business units other than IT and 22 percent said both.

Even SIM's findings aren't clear on who's making technology decisions. In its survey, nearly 300 IT executives ranked business intelligence as the most important new application/technology, followed by infrastructure and enterprise application integration, prompting SIM to conclude that "business management is driving many of the technology decisions being made today." Why? Because BI and EAI are "business-oriented" categories. Yet Luftman, the survey co-leader, says none of the data supports such a sweeping conclusion.

So who's calling the shots? Well, even if one group or another initiates an IT project, there's still considerable collaboration once the project moves forward--from evaluation and purchase of the solution through implementation and management. The exceptions to this rule--ERP projects that proceed without early input from network planners and system architects, CRM systems rolled out without buy-in from salespeople--tend to be disasters.Perhaps the confusion about where technology decision-making sits suggests that too much emphasis is still placed on business and IT management as separate competencies. Would a survey conducted by a top HR, marketing or engineering management association conclude that "business management" is driving many of the HR, marketing or engineering decisions being made at companies today? Or would it presume that their members are part of business management?

The best thing any IT pro can do is to take a step back and brainstorm ways that technology can advance the business. You can't force business units to align themselves with IT, but you can make yourself--and your organization--more valuable. This is what we expect of HR, marketing and engineering; we should expect no less from ourselves.

--Rob Preston, [email protected]

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