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Alignment isn’t enough. Integration is what it takes.

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Pity the poor CIO.

Your average CIO has a lot in common with a child who is surrounded by cool toys but has too much homework to play with them.

The cool toys are the heaps of nifty new technologies IT can bring to bear on company strategies and tactics – everything from generative AI to no-code / low-code development environments, to automating any gadget they glance at by way of the Internet of Things, to … make your own list. It will be a long one.

The CIO’s homework? It’s making sure the IT organization is organized and tuned for success. This means ensuring the IT organization:

  • Is properly integrated into the business as a whole.
  • Operates through well-defined and maturely managed processes and practices.
  • Establishes and continually evolves a well-engineered technical architecture.
  • Leads and manages IT staff so as to maximize human performance.

This week’s homework assignment is business integration – the combination of factors that make sure the IT organization goes beyond “alignment,” and that the actual information technology IT provides is built into the business instead of just being bolted on.

Presumably, the value of IT going beyond alignment to integration is obvious enough that no additional explanation is needed.

How to achieve it? That’s another story. Here are some tips and techniques IT leaders can use to get started.

Setting Strategy and Direction. Whatever strategies, tactics, and overall direction a CIO might set, they either advance better business/IT integration or they don’t.

And if they don’t, prudent … no, make that minimally competent … CIOs will adjust IT’s plans so they do.

Most change starts with culture. “Culture” is how we do things around here. Most often, IT and business management share a culture that positions the IT organization as a supplier of information technology to its “internal customers.” Here in KJR-land we’ve beat the internal-customer fallacy to death already (for example, in this piece, which ran in InfoWorld in 1996).

With strong business integration, business and IT management think of each other as peers and collaborators in creating value for Real Paying (External) Customers.

Culture provides lane markers. Governance provides guardrails. Governance matters – no doubt about it. It establishes processes and practices that help prevent major errors in judgment.

But overemphasizing the role governance plays in setting IT’s direction and priorities can turn the IT organization into a stifling, choking bureaucracy.

Councils over committees: IT needs decisions, on multiple topics and multiple levels, and it can’t and shouldn’t make them unilaterally.

The usual solution is to form steering committees to make them with full business involvement.

But better than the usual solution are to form councils rather than committees. The difference? Committee members join in order to represent their part of the business and make sure they get their fair share of things.

Council members join as leaders of the whole enterprise. They bring special knowledge of areas they lead or have led, but aren’t there to represent their interests.

There’s no such thing as an IT project. IT projects are how IT-as-supplier delivers working information technology … its product … to its internal customers. But as IT isn’t a supplier to internal customers, it shouldn’t have IT projects at all. The projects IT gets involved in aren’t about delivering technology. They’re about intentional business change.

Bob’s last word: It’s worth pointing out that the intentional business change IT gets involved in comes in three flavors: (1) Business process improvement; (2) decision support; and (3) a better customer experience … that is, external paying customer experience … when interacting with the company.

What, not a better user experience?

Well, sure, except that the point of a better customer experience is to make the company’s virtual cash register go “ching!” so it’s important that external customers enjoy, or at least aren’t excessively irritated by the company’s customer interface.

The point of a better user experience is that it lets them do their work more effectively when they interact with the applications that support the work they do.

Bob’s sales pitch: Want to help out the cause here in KJR-land? Write an Amazon.com review for your favorite KJR title.

Or even your least-favorite title. Even a negative review about one of my books helps out the cause. That’s because a large total number of reviews helps establish a book as being real.

Now on CIO.com’s CIO Survival Guide: The surefire way to waste money on IT consultants.” What it’s about: Politics are an inescapable part of most consulting engagements. Just don’t make politics the point.

Comments (3)

  • Good article.

    BTW, do you have any thoughts on how information technology is integrated into the zillions of tiny businesses that allegedly sprung up after covid?

    • All I have are guesses. I’m guessing many or most of these new businesses are web / mobile pure plays, which would make their IT deeply integrated into their business models, strategies, and actions.

  • Thanks for sharing your perspective.

    Though I should note that here in tech-heavy Bay Area, 13 years after Obamacare became law, seamless data transfer between doctors, hospitals, home health care agencies, and skilled nursing facilities has yet to be achieved. Hopefully, it’s different in Minnesota’s biotech universes.

    It’s just my way of saying this article should be required reading for all those young business owners and executive directors who think they understand the internet but don’t understand IT.

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