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Summary:We have all heard the phrase "IT needs to align with the business" but what does it actually mean, and how are businesses achieving it?

Getting the go-ahead
Modelling the processes
Skilling the business-IT divide
Sidebar: The enterprise that plans together...

Skilling the business-IT divide
Management and IT co-operation and technological sufficiency may both be critical for alignment success, but anybody who's been involved in this level of organisational change will also point out that a clearly defined process for alignment can be equally important.

Many organisations are finding the inspiration for this process through ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library), an increasingly popular service management framework that is providing the first concrete, broadly applicable way for companies to manage and measure business-IT alignment.

This value comes because ITIL focuses both on IT metrics and business goals for assessing service quality. "We've taken on ITIL as an initiative throughout the whole organisation," says Giles Blaber, standards manager with KAZ Group, a recently Telstra-acquired IT services provider whose internal capabilities include BMC application management technology that monitors business process availability based on the IT capabilities upon which those processes depend.

"We had our technicians and service personnel focusing very heavily on the technology and not having an understanding of the impact that a particular problem might be causing for the business," Blaber explains. "We hire good technicians on the basis that they're good technicians, and it takes a while for them to build up good information about a particular customer's business. Customers want a referenceable definition on which they can judge us, and we had to be sure that we realigned our processes."

By getting its employees reading from the same hymnal, so to speak, Blaber believes ITIL has become an invaluable way of aligning its capabilities with its customers' business needs. It's an essential capability for an outsourcer that's held to service delivery standards, as other outsourcers already know well.

Such realignment is also paying dividends for many organisations by allowing them to focus customer-facing efforts internally. By doing this, successes in aligning internal IT with external business needs can be replicated for internal business needs.

In the end, making ITIL work requires skilled people as well as effective processes -- but it's important to remember that the CIO may not always be the best one for the job, warns Andrew Williams, practice leader for IT strategy with consulting firm Capgemini. "You don't need to transform the whole of the way the IT department is set up, but you do need a couple of people in the organisation who have targets and measures," he says.

"Many organisations will try to do this through the CIO role, but in the long run it doesn't work. The CIO will retain accountability, but in our experience it works more effectively when you have someone else who is working on that IT-business interface."

To this end, many organisations have appointed individual workers to new positions whose sole responsibilities revolve around maintaining and strengthening links between IT and business organisations.

Datacom Systems, for one, appointed an internal service delivery manager to apply the company's customer-facing methodologies to its 130-strong internal operations. Orica Consumer Products appointed dedicated IT business analysts within each of its groups after making a major shift towards SAP (see sidebar). And at Deakin University, dedicated project managers from the IT department's newly formed Service Planning and Development area are embedded within business units to ensure IT capabilities stay aligned with business needs.

"Before, it was just someone from the business who would assume a part-time project management role," says Plant. "But to make sure things get properly achieved from an IT and business perspective, our project managers now report directly to the business sponsor. They stay well informed because we have those direct lines of communications, and they can tell IT what's critical, and define metrics to go with the transactions. This gives the business a clear indication of what is possible and what will be delivered."

Topics: CXO


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