Sometimes business alignment means getting back to basics.
I have a bizarre daydream. CEOs, frustrated that their each and every wish is not being fulfilled, band together and take to the streets. Just imagine it! Impeccably dressed, perfectly coiffed men and women marching down George Street with professionally prepared banners held aloft, of course, by their spin doctors and executive assistants. I can faintly hear them chanting: "What do we want? Business alignment! When do we want it? Now!"
Needless to say, the reality is bit different in these days of intensity and pinpoint focus. Gone are the student days when you could get involved in issues at the grass roots level and meet girls at the same time. But let's face it. One of the lessons we learned back then is just as valid today. Saying the same thing over and over, just louder, doesn't work.
I'm going to take a punt and suggest that most CEOs only talk about business alignment because it's easy to say, it's got the word business in it and we CIOs seem to prick our ears up when we hear it.
So, what's the most important thing to a CEO? OK, it probably is bonuses and options packages, so let's rephrase that to ask what is the most important thing about IT to most CEOs?
I am pretty sure most CEOs would say they would really, really value IT if they never heard anything about IT again - particularly from division heads, who are constantly using it as an excuse to cover up their shoddy performance. Roughly translated that means the CEO simply wants reliable, functional and cost-effective computing services. (At least that's what he or she thought when they employed you; but wires got crossed somewhere and some of you have misguidedly assumed he wanted you to transform the business.) As a concession to the CEOs who are protesting in my daydreams, here's my Three-Step Guide to Business Alignment for CIOs.
Step 1: Forget about the CEO, and get back to basics. Your first business alignment objective is to make sure that systems work when they are turned on and only cease to work when they are turned off.
Step 2: Only move to this step when you can make the first step happen 7x24x365.
Your aim in this step is to stop business unit heads blaming IT even though they have nothing to blame you for (which they won't once you get Step 1 right). I know it's a big ask, but there is only one way to do this - make friends with them. Ask them to lunch occasionally. Assist them in any way you can to ensure they look good in front of the CEO. It may even extend to popping over to the marketing manager's place for dinner and setting up a wireless network for the kids while you're there.
You're ready to move on to Step 3 when you get invited to present an overview of the IT function at the next internal sales and marketing extravaganza. Shortly after which, the CFO will suggest a weekly catch-up over coffee where he/she will relentlessly bag (confidentially of course) the sales and marketing team. You are gaining confidence that you won't be the object of a similar bagging the next time you're not at a meeting of executives!
Step 3: Stand in front of the mirror and have a good hard look at yourself. Now forget the propaganda, forget the advertising, forget anything you've been told about how important IT is to the business and remember that IT doesn't run the business, IT supports the business. Your job is to make IT easy. And if you do that well, everybody, including the CEO, will be thankful!
Anonymous has been a CIO at household-name companies for more years than he cares to name
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.