655176_6609273_lzI was posting on this topic more than 5 years ago (for a selection of posts on this see here) and would never have dreamed of returning to it if it had not been for a flurry of responses to a conversation someone started on a LinkedIn group.  The conversation began with this question:

What can IT do to better align itself with the needs of the business?

Responses were all over the map—some thoughtful, some trite, some tongue in cheek, others dismissive. Some even became argumentative. Most were ‘motherhood and apple pie’—hard to fault, but not very insightful or helpful. Few of them, if any, added anything new. Some shared my view that the whole notion of “alignment” was way past its sell-by date.  A CIO still struggling to achieve alignment has not only missed that boat, but has failed to recognize that for those that must cover great distances, boat travel was replaced by jet travel years ago (to push the transportation metaphor way too far!)

From Alignment to Convergence

As one CIO noted:

That type of [business-IT alignment] thinking went the way of the flip phone many years ago. IT, like all other disciplines, is part of the business—integrated into it. When is the last time you heard that manufacturing, accounting, marketing, distribution, or clinical care is aligned with the business? They are the business, and IT is embedded into each and every one of them.

But while it’s easy to object to the “we/they” language that positions IT as something separate from the business, and interesting to ponder what it means to “integrate IT into the business”, what does that mean in practice?  And how do you get there?

IT Covers Too Much Territory to be a Useful Unit of Analysis

First, I believe it’s important to break IT down into major components. Architecting and operating a shared IT infrastructure (networks, data centers, etc.) is quite different from discovering new opportunities to innovate a business model. Protecting information security and integrity is very different from re-engineering a business process to improve the customer experience. Rather than bundle all IT-related activities under one grand acronym, thinking through the nature of business-IT convergence becomes much more manageable when you think in terms of  7-9 IT capabilities. Some of these capabilities (conceive business value solutions, for example) clearly belong embedded in the “business of the business.”  Others (e.g., manage infrastructure and services) are best managed by specialists and shared across business units and processes as reliable, predictable and well-managed services.

Enter Business Relationship Management

Key to business-IT alignment is the role, discipline and organizational capability of Business Relationship Management. The concept of Business Relationship Management is related to and employs the techniques and disciplines of Customer Relationship Management (CRM). However, while CRM most often refers to a company’s external customers, Business Relationship Management typically deals with a company’s internal customers. Simply stated, IT Business Relationship Management stimulates, surfaces and shapes business demand for IT services and capabilities and ensures that the potential business value is captured, optimized and recognized.

If it sometimes feels like there is a wall between the IT organization and the business it serves, Business Relationship Management represents a perfectly transparent window in that wall—an opening through which the IT organization becomes part of the business it services, and the business becomes part of the IT organization serving it. An opening that magically translates business-speak into IT-speak and vice versa. That allows the IT professionals to become business savvy and the business professionals to become IT savvy. An opening through which business and IT integrate, or converge over time.

Image courtesy of søciety6