What is IT-business alignment?
Every business is a technology business these days. No matter where you work or what you build, you rely on technology to accomplish your work. Instant access to email, group chat, and collaboration tools gives you the opportunity to be more productive than ever.
Of course, the work that you do in IT goes beyond productivity. IT facilitates customer communications, operational efficiency, and business security. This is why it is so important to align technology with your core business strategy.
This work is often referred to as IT-business alignment — organizational coordination in which the IT department's objectives are aligned with the goals of the organization and each group within. It culminates in an IT strategy that serves both internal and external customers, improves business agility, and ideally leads to greater innovation.
The history of IT-business alignment
Historically, IT operated independently of other functional groups and was viewed as a cost center — available to respond to tech requests and fix machines when they broke.
With the advent of the social web and Web 2.0, organizations started to shift to a digital-first mindset. IT teams are now seen as a strategic enabler — making decisions about business strategy, security, investments, and company-wide practices.
But in some organizations, the evolution has been slow — in part because it is hard to step back from the daily demands of IT. Some teams are stuck "fighting fires" and responding to ad hoc requests. Others are focused on tactical work — such as monitoring infrastructure performance, deploying a new software build, or resolving an interrupted service. Of course, tactical work has its place. But IT teams need clarity on what they are trying to achieve at a higher level. Teams that are not well-aligned with the business will struggle to solve organizational challenges and may fall into the trap of constantly changing course.
IT-business alignment also requires a cultural shift that may seem antithetical to a traditional corporate structure. Alignment requires breaking down silos and decentralizing IT — organizations have to get comfortable with bringing more visibility and strategic importance to the IT department.
Why is IT-business alignment important?
IT-business alignment helps you deliver better tools, resources, and solutions to the organization. It is all about reorienting IT from cost center to business driver so that your work is part of the fabric of how each organizational group functions.
Strategic IT-business alignment helps you achieve:
Increased agility and responsiveness
When IT is aligned with the business, IT acts as a single point of contact for all tool and technology requests. IT is involved in all service-level commitments — the key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics that are measured against business goals. And IT helps analyze and reduce friction at each customer touchpoint — making it easier for customers to access information, make a purchase, or reach out for help.
The alignment process is not simple — it takes a tremendous amount of coordination and communication. It is also work that is never "done." IT teams must continually deliver improvements and upgrades. Ultimately, this alignment helps you cut redundancies and stay ahead of customer needs.
How can I achieve IT-business alignment?
Achieving IT-business alignment typically starts with the CEO, chief information officer (CIO), chief technology officer (CTO), or executive team. According to a 2020 study by Deloitte, 40 percent of CEOs say IT leaders are their top partners in business strategy. Together, CEOs and IT leaders can gain alignment by:
Building an IT roadmap: Develop a strategic roadmap that anticipates the technical capabilities the organization needs now and in the future.
Reporting on performance: Bring more visibility to what IT does by sharing KPIs and progress toward goals.
Streamlining feedback: Give internal and external customers a place to submit feedback and requests for improvements. This allows you to see what people need most to do their jobs well.
IT-business alignment gives you an incredible competitive advantage and is a critical step in preparing for a larger enterprise transformation. IT teams have the opportunity to lead the way.