For many years, the great cliche -- and bane of the life of CIOs -- has stated that IT must align with the business. At conferences the world over it is presented as a gem-like discovery, a Brave New World, a golden bridge for spanning the perceived traditional separation of values between those who steer the good ship Enterprise and those mending the motor of the tugboat Information Technology.

In truth, I've never met a CIO yet who doesn't think that it's a good idea to understand the business's strategy nor the broader industry sector in which it operates, and by logical extension to bend IT plans around supportive lines. Understandably, many CIOs are offended by the notion that they could be such dull fellows as to move unilaterally with no cognisance of the bigger business picture.

IT top brass make the effort to understand the business but does the business trouble to understand IT? Alignment is all well and good in principle but situations of conflict have arisen and led to business lines often hurting projects because heed was not paid to IT systems and business inputs were neither smart enough nor well explained at an early stage. This has in turn led to project delays, cost overruns and general dissatisfaction as IT has had to retrofit the capabilities subsequently demanded by business functions. Nowhere has this been more the case than in big bet-the-farm deployments such as ERP or CRM systems where IT and business processes meet -- and often crash.

IT has often got it in the neck for 'causing' project failures by not understanding the needs of the business. Quite recently however, a new school of thought has begun to enter the mainstream, calling for business processes to fit around IT systems, rather than the (traditional) other way around. CIO proponents of this change say that software today is mature and replete with process templates based on best practices and hard-won experience. Rather than go the long way around to change IT systems to fit the quirks of the business, wouldn't it be better if the business moved to meet the IT system and thereby saved the company time, money and ungodly hassle?

It's a compelling thought, promoted by the experience of deploying fast, efficient systems such as Salesforce.com rather than unwieldy, heavily re-engineered systems of yore. So will the radical notion of the business adapting processes to meet the pre-built IT system prosper and proliferate? Perhaps not, but it's a very interesting notion.