The recently published 2016 Society for Information Management IT Issues and Trends Study[1] found that the number one IT management issue of concern to organizations is the “Alignment of IT and/with the Business”.  IT-Business alignment has remained the top issue for most of the years that this study has been conducted, with a few exceptions, when it might have slipped to number two or number three.  The authors of the study suggest that this is not a failure as some may suggest but that “the ongoing importance of alignment reflects the enduring need to keep IT aligned with the ever-changing needs of the organization. Organizations are dynamic and thus it is not only necessary to get IT aligned but to keep IT aligned too.”  But that is just the problem.  The statement presumes that to successfully derive value from IT investments we must work to wrestle the dynamic parameters of both the business and IT into submission so we can bring them in sync with each other.  This thinking about alignment of IT and business suggests that synchrony between the two entities will produce results that are valuable and meaningful to organizations.  In this scenario, alignment is viewed an input that mediates the outcomes of investment in IT.  We do not think this is the case.

Alignment is not the goal when making investments in IT!  Rather than being an input to this process, alignment actually results from focusing on outcomes that are valuable and valued by those who pay for it.  If organizations keep chasing IT-business alignment they will be eternally disappointed.  This is akin to chasing a mirage of an oasis in the desert that never actually materializes. The dynamism of the business and technology environments is the norm, not the exception.  Therefore, rather than focusing efforts on corralling this dynamism, organizations need to focus on developing the capabilities to navigate and ride the turbulent waves that business and IT must traverse.  Valuable returns from investments in IT will result when organizations build and apply their capacity to presciently and wisely plan for and choose IT investments that make sense to the business; innovatively deploy, nurture, and apply the assets resulting from the investments; and actively harvest the outcomes (such as customer satisfaction with more efficient and useful services, lower costs, greater returns on investment, improved decision making, among other outcomes) that customers willingly and repeatedly will pay for.  Putting the focus on the elusive IT-business alignment is like investing in a mirage that will never produce thirst quenching satisfaction.

[1] Kappelman, L., McLean, E., Johnson, V., Torres, R., Nguyen, Q., Maurer, C., and Snyder, M. (2017) The 2016 SIM IT Issues and Trends Study, MIS Quarterly Executive, 16 (1), 47-80