For more than two decades, Business Alignment has been a favourite topic for conferences, surveys and training courses. Based on a very simple rationale, Business Alignment correctly argues no part of an enterprise can afford to prosecute its own separate agenda. IT was singled out as an area needing special attention ahead of other parts of the enterprise. For some organisations, the strategy worked well. For others, it created some serious unintended consequences. Technical complexity became undervalued, and technology enabled projects expanded in scope, cost and risk. Some organisations became trapped in a spiral of commodity IT cost-cutting and expensive project overruns. Today, some enterprises are breaking free and are redefining a new alignment agenda.
The IT role can sometimes appear to be a thankless task, but sometimes its response has just made the problem worse. Hemmed in by growing expectations, shrinking budgets and a diminishing tolerance for failure, some CIOs have opted to circle their wagons to defend staff numbers, budgets and internal infrastructure. However, generational change has delivered a technology-enabled workforce with little understanding or acceptance of the word "no". Indeed, while some organisations pride themselves on their tight control of IT resources, the very use of these tight controls has encouraged the growth of informal IT areas, hidden across the enterprise. Common drivers include the use of mobile technology, cloud computing and social networking with staff and customers.
But it is not all bad news. Some organisations are breaking out of this cycle, and with impressive results. Some common themes are emerging:
1. Forget "magic bullets", they don't exist.
The technology industry is no more immune to the false hopes of fads and quick fixes than any other part of the enterprise. Unfortunately many fads just end in disappointment. A number of successful IT departments are no longer pinning their plans on magic bullets or waiting for greater role clarity. Instead, they are opportunistically looking for openings created in a changing business environment. Tough times can be good times for IT, as it creates opportunities to look at the business differently, and focus management attention on core outcomes and corporate productivity.
2. Forget "Best Practice" - Focus on "Most Common Practice"
Best Practice can be very problematic for IT, because its definition often lies in the eyes of the beholder. This can result in endless arguments that bog down projects, and create highly customised, bespoke and risky systems. Best Practice can often mean most expensive practice. A number of organisations are now questioning this approach, and are opting for package-based solutions (COTS or SaaS) based on the notion of Most Common Practice. Most Common Practice is easier to quantify. It can be assessed and measured through corporate benchmarks and through formal assessments of readily available solutions. Most Common Practice is based on the view that organisations rarely need to be unique in all aspects. Indeed, they only need to be unique in areas of key competitive differentiation.
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