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11 September 2007

IT entrenches misalignment

By Andrew Clifford

One of the main roles of IT management is to help business navigate the alternative realities of IT. But the way we do this makes IT more complicated and more misaligned.

A lot of our IT management effort is spent on navigating the complexity and misalignment of IT.

  • We use enterprise architecture to model different views of IT, such as technology, applications and business processes, and to map the relationships between them. This helps us understand what technical response we need to make to support new business needs.
  • We use project portfolio management (PPM) to bring together the competing demands for IT work, to balance priorities, to control the work, and to ensure that resources are directed to the best IT investments.
  • We subdivide the IT work by defining specialist roles, both technical roles (like "IBM middleware specialist") and administrative roles (like "project office co-ordinator").
  • We formalise IT's own work processes, and pursue process maturity. We adopt frameworks like CMMI and ITIL to drive process improvements.

These activities help us bridge the gap between business reality and the alternative reality of IT. They are critical to delivering business value.

But by attempting to manage complexity and misalignment, we legitimise complexity and misalignment. Instead of throwing our hands up in horror and saying, "This is all too hard", we accept the situation and say, "We can do that". We set expectations that it is OK to have more of the same. As we increase our capacity to manage complexity and misalignment, we dig ourselves deeper into it.

  • Because we have enterprise architecture, our response to new business requirements is to add new layers and shared components, not to build systems that focus on single business areas.
  • Because we have PPM, our response to unclearly defined projects is to continue to juggle multiple needs and stakeholders, not to stop the project and seek clarity.
  • Because we have specialist roles, our response to niche technologies is to create more specialist roles, not to reject the technology as unviable.
  • Because we manage processes, our response to misaligned and inefficient processes is to elaborate our processes with more controls and sub processes, not to start again with something simpler and more focussed.

Our IT management is a rational response to the structural problems we see in IT, and is a genuine attempt to manage the complexities to better serve the needs of business. But inadvertently, by managing complexity and misalignment, we entrench it.

We are on a heretical journey. We have seen that the structures of IT - architecture, organisation, decision making - are largely a by-product of engineering necessity, and that these form an alternative reality that does not align with the realities of business. And our IT management response, rational and valiant though it is, further entrenches this misalignment. We are in a hole, and we are trying to dig ourselves out.

Next week I will start painting a picture of how this misalignment contributes to the major problems we have in IT.

Next: The root of all evil

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