The old business-IT debate still rages

When I started my high-tech media career 16 years ago, business-IT alignment was a hot topic, and it still is today. Google the phrase “business-IT relationship” and you’ll find scores of articles on the topic; it even has its own Wikipedia entry.

Is there any C-level executive who gets poked, prodded or questioned more than the CIO? I don’t hear much discussion or debate about the business-finance relationship or the business-marketing relationship. When was the last time you read an article that put a date on the demise of the CFO, CMO or COO?

We often say in these pages and on that IT is now the business. How can we still be talking about IT and the business as though they’re separate? In this day of digital business and technology advancement, we need to stop separating the two and speak about IT as being as much a part of the business as any other department. I’m not naïve enough to think that all CIOs are equal or that there aren’t any organizations where the IT-business relationship is broken beyond repair, but broken business relationships aren’t unique to CIOs.

In our 2017 State of the CIO survey, we asked 200 non-IT business executives to characterize their relationships with their CIOs when it comes to technology considerations. We gave them five choices, ranging from the positive strategic adviser or consultant, to the neutral risk assessor, to the negative roadblock or rogue player. The responses were largely positive; 63% said they view CIOs either as strategic advisers or consultants. The key factor in how CIOs are perceived is how proactive they are. To earn strategic adviser status, CIOs need to offer ideas, opportunities and solutions.


What about the nearly 20% of business leaders who view CIOs as roadblocks or rogue players? These are the situations where business people feel they have no support from the CIO and must go around IT to get things done. Most CIOs I speak with say they have themselves to blame if there is a broken relationship with other business units and shadow IT is rampant in their organization. They say they haven’t done enough to demonstrate the benefits of working with IT, and they haven’t explained the potentially harmful side effects of working around IT.

I’ve said before that I don’t think there’s ever been a more interesting time to be an enterprise CIO. Is it tough? Sure. And those who are stuck in their old ways probably should move on. But there are so many great stories of CIOs and their teams making meaningful contributions to their businesses. Let’s stop rehashing the old IT-business debate, recognizing that managing IT’s relationship with the business is table stakes for today’s CIOs. Instead, let’s focus on how IT advances the business. Those are the stories that will move us forward.


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