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A few weeks back I had an email from a Christopher Fox at Bain & Co – he’d found my blog and its topic of business:IT alignment of interest. (Aside: why email and not a comment on the blog, Christopher?)

He pointed me to an article in CIO Insight discussing some Bain research into how good (or otherwise) an emphasis on IT aligning with the business really was. The outtake: not always.

Now, I’ll admit that I didn’t get a clear message from the CIO Insight article – it was almost saying that aligning your IT to strategy wasn’t a good thing. Fortunately Christopher forwarded me the report when it was published, and it became clearer – alignment alone wasn’t worth it … it had to be effective IT first, where "effective" is "getting IT projects up and running on budget".

The survey contrasted companies’ IT effectiveness and their revenue growth (there may be an argument around the usefulness of that criteria vs profit growth or others, but I’m going with the flow) – and using the ubiquitous quadrant came up with the conclusions that the "magic" spot is to be aligned AND effective (not an earth-shattering conclusion perhaps – after the fact!). The interest lies in the contrast to the other outcomes and the poverty of an alignment-only mantra. I particularly liked the image of an "alignment trap" … where getting the projects prioritised correctly but handled ineffectually seemed to actually make things worse.

The message seems to be that strategic alignment is important, and a worthy goal, but how you get there is at least important – get better at your project management first, and maybe the business will see the value in sharing their strategy with you.

There is a more in-depth article in Sloan Management Review that you can check out if you’re interested in the survey results – it makes interesting reading (not behind a paywall when I looked last).