This month's CIO UK Debate is the result of a conversation the editorial team had with Adrian Dilworth, the CIO of Vodafone Qatar, the latest network launched by global mobile operator. Dilworth enjoys challenging assumed attitudes and comes at the issue of alignment of IT with the business from a very different angle; he believes that in many cases the business should align with IT.
This radically different view is based on experience, Dilworth insisted in the set up of Vodafone Qatar that there would be no customisation to the Oracle applications. In acquiring the Oracle telecoms set of applications he believes he bought in best practice methods for Vodafone and teams around the business should, and have, aligned their methods with the applications. The results have been successful. Vodafone is a CIO 100 ranked company.
I personally regard IT aligning with the business as a shared responsibility that goes both ways. Generally alignment takes a serious amount of work. I have many times seen people who mistake "agreement" for "alignment", or even "communication" for "alignment". Real alignment need to be done at multiple levels and that includes getting down to resources, budget, schedule or priority to deliver it.
The second point of alignment is that you can burn large amounts of time to little effect trying to achieve alignment across large organisations. Organisations are built out of people who will naturally have all sorts of opinions and views. Expecting to align and get agreement with everyone is complete folly. Good organisations should have effective processes that ensure alignment, if not, start by booking an hour with the CEO and work down. You will achieve the result you want a lot quicker than pursuing a "general consensus" approach.
In large / global organisations you also have a large number of stakeholders that you could spend time consulting, briefing and aligning. Other than a few exceptions spend your time with only those who have 'skin in the game'. Opinion makers will have their say in the background but "success" will ultimately define opinion.
Organisations tend to be good at aligning on objectives or goals, e.g. grow market share by 10 per cent, reduce operating costs, improve customer satisfaction results. These are the 'what' we want to achieve, few would disagree with growing the business and making more money.
Where you will find things get tricky is actually on the "how". This can become an on-going debate and a big distraction from the real purpose of what is trying to be achieved. We have tried break that cycle in two ways:
Firstly by establishing a standing set of principles in which 'all IT' should be delivered. These do not change no matter what the release or roadmap or business requirements are.
Secondly by working hard on the inter-department relationships. If the "relationship" is good, then the communication, the understanding and sub-sequent alignment usually follows.
In Vodafone Qatar I have taken the approach to, as much as possible, deliver and operate IT in very specific domains. We actually try to isolate system domains rather than integrate applications and systems together. I will not get into a debate here on the broader implications of this approach, other than to say that this high degree of segmentation and focus allows easier alignment to be achieved for that domain.
Want to know more about the CIOs in this debate?
Ian Dobb was CIO for Channel 4 for 10 years, in this CIO UK interview he discusses his decade in broadcasting.
A full interview with Adrian Dilworth will be published soon.
The CIO Debate: Business must align with IT
About this article
This Debate article draws in part on a round-table discussion between UK-based analyst firm MWD Advisors and members of the CIO UK community. If you'd like to participate in the research for our next article, please contact register with CIO UK or join our LinkedIn community.