What sends IT people into paroxysms of fear and loathing? The CIO -- or maybe even the CEO -- calls a meeting. After some throat clearing come the fateful words: "I've just read a Gartner report on [fill in the blank]. And here's what I think we should do..."
As voice is given to this big new priority, the blank expressions of the IT managers sitting around the table hide the furious calculations kicking into gear. What would be the minimum level of effort to get this done? What is the risk to my career if I say we don't have the bandwidth? If we do it, how will it affect the truly important stuff, like keeping the lights on after my budget has been ripped to shreds?
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So goes the dysfunctional relationship between business management and IT. Business seldom seems to know what it's asking for, while IT lacks insight into what business drivers may be behind such proposals. To modernize IT, you must start by repairing that relationship.
Let's begin the healing process by banning forever the odious phrase "business-IT alignment." All it means is that IT should snap to it when a powerful business stakeholder wants to build something or cut costs or jump on some new trend -- without regard to the totality of the whole current operation. This "just say yes" approach has resulted in the mess many IT organizations now find themselves in, with siloed systems and applications maintained by separate staffs that the enterprise can no longer afford to maintain.
The business side has no business telling technologists how to build things or ramming through IT initiatives borrowed from analysts. Good IT begins with good business leadership and clear communication of business priorities. If there's a realistic sense of the current state of the business, what it's good at doing, and where it wants to go, then you have the underpinnings of a sound enterprise architecture right there.
That realization is the first principal in modernizing IT. But how you interpret those specific goals and priorities is critical. If you hard-code systems around a granular set of goals and priorities, you're screwed, because these things change constantly, especially in volatile economic times. IT management needs to work with business management to gain an intuitive sense of all the core business functions and how they are likely to be extended -- and build an agile architecture around all that, with the assumption that change never stops.