The Alignment Problem

“Failed or unsatisfactory IT business change projects have been commonplace for decades, but major technology failure has seldom if ever been cited as the main cause of failure”

Inadequate alignment of IT and business has been a major factor in the damaging delays, massive cost increases, and reduced functionality, which are all too often present in IT-enabled business change projects. Indeed, relentless IT innovation, in a maelstrom of business change, makes alignment extremely difficult.

When one looks at the root causes of many of today’s worst project failures, technology issues have seldom if ever been cited as the main cause of failure. However, management failures, poor judgments and lack of clarity over shared responsibilities have all figured repeatedly in project post-mortems, as have weaknesses in communication and lack of shared awareness of critical success issues.

The above management inadequacies derive from a lack of shared understanding, motivation and purpose between IT professionals and business people but, in spite of that fact, scant attention has typically been given to solving the behavioural, attitudinal and motivational issues that lie at the heart of business change.

What have we done about it? Initiatives in response to many project post mortems have produced recommendations for process and procedural change, but not the behavioural or cultural changes needed to span the IT/business disconnect. That serious deficiency was not recognised by top management, who focused instead on more effective project management disciplines designed to improve the delivery of IT systems.

Whilst improvement in project management processes over the years was indeed important, the absence of attention to behavioral and cultural inadequacies meant that the root causes of poor performance stubbornly remained. And so it is today.

Why is more effective IT and Business alignment now so urgent? We are undoubtedly still in the early stages of what is probably the most radical business transformational change ever, as we go through yet another major evolutionary step with the current explosion in the new social media, and its largely unknown longer term ramifications for business, manufacturing, commerce and government. And what comes next?

If inspirational top level leadership in the management of such radical change is to be as intelligent, far sighted, and well informed in every plane as it needs to be, then more effective business/IT alignment is needed in order to ensure that all parties work together with shared priorities and objectives as the new scenario unfolds.

Those at the top with responsibility for business and public leadership therefore need to raise their game in order to become more intelligent users and better informed investors in, and drivers of, IT enabled business change. However, in our traditional business structure and culture, there has been great reluctance by many in top business and Public Sector positions to become more involved in matters such as IT that take them outside their established comfort zone.

The need: The need is not to teach board members about IT. It is simply to generate a better understanding of their business threats and opportunities in the new e-business context, and of the critical success issues in relation to dealing effectively with those threats and opportunities. Today’s typical IT Programme Steering Committee does little to facilitate that understanding and it is in need of a complete overhaul. That transition is dealt with at length in The DILIGENT DIRECTOR in a Digital Business World.

Board members can no longer regard this matter as an ‘IT’ challenge that calls for ever more investment in guidance by the experts – who are no doubt highly expert in their fields but not in the deep rooted culture and drivers in your organisation. Instead, an effective initial response to this need is to set up a sub-committee of the board to focus on this particularly important aspect of the board’s strategic responsibilities.