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IT Alignment Is Passť

By Marilyn Weinstein
Jan 8, 2011 5:00 AM PT

Platitudes can be common in our line of business and I often get asked, "What are the most overused phrases that you have heard over the past three-plus years as CEO of an IT consulting and staffing firm?"

IT Alignment Is Passť

It's an easy question to answer as the phrases typically involve "alignment" -- either stating that "IT must learn to align with the business," or "smart CIOs know that IT must align with the business, in order to succeed."

These phrases are overused and condescending -- implying that CIOs lack business smarts or proper business education. They're also statements with which I wholeheartedly disagree. If you are merely aligning with the business, you are not doing enough.

IT drives efficiencies. IT enables business. IT powers business success. The goal is not merely to align, but rather to get in front of the business goals and spearhead growth through next-generation products and customer service.

'Alignment' Defined

"Align" means to fall in line, or to get behind, according to common definitions.This suggests that the business sets the pace and sets the strategy, and it implies that with alignment, IT must fall directly behind, and keep pace with, the business.

Traditionally, this discussion comes up in one of two ways. Either we're discussing corporate respect and reporting structures within an organization -- the IT department's lack of leadership representation or a "seat at the table," more specifically -- or we're discussing the common view that IT is merely a "cost center."

While I am not suggesting that these problems and perceptions can instantly disappear, the shift in mindset can happen if you understand its scope and take the lead in making the necessary changes.

IT does drive and enable business. It's time for IT leadership to drive that point home.

Innovation and IT-generated efficiencies likely motivated most of your staff to enter IT in the first place -- for the idea that there is a better, faster, more efficient way of doing things, and that IT can make that happen. Yet somewhere along the way, we lost track of the connection and reduced their influence.

Embrace Organic Innovation

I believe that true innovation often emerges from an overlooked reality. For some, an expensive marketing or R&D budget precedes innovation, and groups of thought leaders spend months -- sometimes years -- planning versions 2.0 and beyond. However, in most cases, innovation is born from necessity.

Organic innovation, particularly as spearheaded by IT, can be extremely rewarding. The level of expertise and innovation present in an IT department just lends itself to the creation of dynamic new sales and marketing channels.

Take e-commerce, for example, which is now an integral channel for all types of retail businesses. In this instance, IT departments generally own the program, as they recognize and conceptualize its potential from the start.

No matter the budget available, there are countless examples of IT departments that have maximized their resources to develop attractive and intuitive online catalogs that generate significant revenue.

Creating a Culture of Innovation

True leaders are bold and take risks. In order to develop a culture of innovation within your IT organization, you must immerse yourself in the rest of the business. Sell your ideas for innovation, and then execute.

After even a single small win, it will be easier to continually steer these innovative ideas up the organizational ladder. Reward creativity -- but most importantly, market your accomplishments. Positive PR will incite additional creativity, one win at a time.

Marilyn Weinstein is CEO of Vivo.

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