Thursday, June 19, 2008


Enterprise Architecture: Why Business/IT alignment is elusive...

Alignment is the degree to which IT understands the priorities of the business and expends its resources, pursues projects and provides IT strategies and architectures consistent with them...

In practical terms, IT and business priorities must be tightly linked and spending must be matched to the company's growth strategies. There must be shared ownership and shared governance of IT projects. A lack of alignment can doom IT either to irrelevance or to failure.

The funny thing is that alignment alone doesn't bring along improvement. In fact, a narrow focus on alignment reflects a fundamental misconception about the nature of IT. Underperforming capabilities are often rooted not just in misalignment but in the complexity of systems, applications and other infrastructure. Complexity doesn’t magically disappear just because an IT organization learns to focus on aligned projects rather than less aligned ones. On the contrary, in some situations it can actually get worse. This begs the question of whether IT is somewhat premature in its need to expend energy to sound like the business vs simply working on ways to make IT better even if business doesn't understand the need.

The non-technical IT executive, especially those who are perception management oriented will spend money on developers who are dedicated to particular business units in order to improve alignment, yet these same IT executives will continue to ignore the need for standardization and upgrading of legacy systems. How can you be aligned if you are still doing worst practices such as COBOL?

IT in the pursuit of alignment in many cases has created a new labyrinth of new complexity on top of the old, making IT system enhancements and infrastructure improvements even more difficult to implement and leaving the potential to scale on the table.

One needs to ask themselves if they understand the difference between being aligned vs being efficient? Do enterprise architects ever emphasize simplicity or are they rewarded for managing complexity?

More importantly, alignment can never occur and enterprises cannot build effectiveness unless they hold IT and the business accountable for delivering expected results on time and on budget. Accountability is not a departmental concept but one that needs to be assigned to each and every individual within IT.

As an enterprise architect, I know that I have responsibilities over many agendas, but when are we ever truly accountable? Accountability requires at many levels more than just influence and almost always demands control. In today's world of governance, where everyone has a say, it erodes the ability to make anyone accountable.

True accountability reflects organizational changes. Executives get the information they need to measure IT progress, folks in are held accountable for outcomes, business folks and controllers give IT the resources it needs and then work closely with not just IT executives but IT leaders throughout the organization chart to give them the tools required to get the job done...

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