Thursday, December 31, 2009

Alignment as a Percentage

Many people perceive value in something called Business-IT alignment, and argue that we should invest in tools and methods that increase this alignment.

Does the word "alignment" actually mean anything concrete, or is it just a vague metaphor, as I suggested in  my previous post Alignment - Science or Pseudoscience? Here's my challenge to the alignment brigade: I'm not interested in "business-IT alignment" unless it can be expressed as a percentage.

Let's imagine we can define a scale from 0% (no alignment whatsoever) to 100% (total alignment). I guess the two extremes would be practically impossible, but 80% would be significantly better than 40%. So we could suppose that any investment that increased alignment from 40% to 80% would be worth considering, if the costs and risks were acceptable.

But at present, we don't have an agreed scale. People sometimes talk as if alignment was some metaphysical goal (like love), rather than a practical manageable outcome. But while I accept the importance of relationships and trust within organizations, I don't see this as part of the concept of alignment.

And I'm not convinced that Business-IT alignment is necessarily a good thing anyway. As I said at a CBDI Forum meeting back in April 2000, 

"There are some organizations where business and IT are perfectly aligned: they are standing side by side, with their heads in the same sand, aligned in a shared sense of complacency. In other organizations, the opposite is true. It is often in the dynamic, progressive organizations where business and IT are furthest apart." [CBDI Journal "Interact", May 2000]

Furthermore, why is "alignment" only a question for IT. @malcolmlowe comments "interesting how no-one measures business-finance alignment as %. It's just part of bus". And what about HR or other support functions?

However if we had a scale I believe it could be a useful management tool, provided that the results were properly interpreted. Given how many CIOs worry about the "alignment" problem, some of them might want to assess and benchmark the alignment percentage from time to time, to see if it is going up or down. As long as it is clearly understood that there are many things that IT needs to be "aligned" with, not just a simplistic notion of "the business".

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