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It’s easy to talk about business/IT alignment using a lot of very nice concepts and big nebulous words like ‘governance’ ‘strategy’ ‘accountability’ ‘objectives’…and so on, but what does it really mean?  Unless the concepts can be translated into something that is practical, useful and viable, all we have is an interesting academic or philosophical discussion.  I love it when I find something that takes the basic principles of business/IT alignment and turns those into something real, tangible and practical.  Canadian company fusedlogic has done exactly that by applying their technology expertise to improve a personal and community experience: using transit.  Take a look at the new application on their site: http://www.fusedlogic.com/iphone-public-transit-application-2126/

With a growing interest in shared public transportation to reduce personal transportation costs as well as contribute to environmental improvements, one of the driving issues is timely access to bus, train and route information.  In extreme climates (whether that’s heat or cold) this can even be considered as a health issue!  fusedlogic has tapped into the demographic range and device/channel preferences to develop a new iPhone application that can access city transit information at the touch of a screen, find your routes, identify stops and even provide estimates on arrivals!  Providing this service only requires an agreement with the local municipal transit authority to share information.

Now seriously, who wouldn’t want their city to provide this?  And for cities considering doing this themselves, I have to question whether it is an appropriate use of city resources to re-invent the wheel – especially if it would only work in one city!  Every municipality should be jumping on this to provide a current, helpful citizen-centric service like this with minimal cost or maintenance required by city resources.

And if that isn’t REAL business/IT alignment, I don’t know what is!

I have approval from the university to share the following Open Letter from the President of Athabasca University to all students.  If you are concerned about how Canadian copyright legislation may be revised and potentially restricted through the current review, please make your views known at the government discussion site noted in the letter.  Please respond to the poll as well: http://suzviews.wordpress.com/2009/08/22/polldaddy-poll1903932/

August 2009

Open Letter to All Students,

The Government of Canada has launched a nationwide consultation on copyright modernization, which ends on September 13th. The government is currently preparing new copyright legislation that is anticipated for delivery this fall, which could resemble Bill C-61, which died on the order paper during the last Parliament. If you are interested or concerned about copyright reform please visit the copyright consultation website at http://copyright.econsultation.ca/.

Universities have an interest in protecting copyright as producers of intellectual and creative content and also in fair dealing as researchers and teachers. So, we do support legislation that both protects copyright owners from infringement and protects the rights of educational users. However, any legislation similar to Bill C-61 will have profound negative effects on researchers and educators as well as the general public. There were five substantive issues contained in Bill C-61, which were of concern; noncircumvention measures, format shifting, contractual over rise of fair dealing, statutory damages, and destruction of content. We have provided a briefing note on these five issues that you could raise.

It will place Canada at a disadvantage internationally and will even more significantly marginalize e-learning and distance education. E-learning institutions now reach over 20 million learners per year with Canada as a recognized world leader in telecommunications and learning. This legislation could well end our ability to contribute to building Canadian and overseas learning communities. Countries with wiser copyright regimes that promote educational use will catapult ahead of Canada. No longer will we be internationally competitive because of the restrictions contained in the legislation. We need to seek balance between the protection of rights, the rights of learners, and our international competitiveness in distance and e-learning.

I would like to request that you contact Hon. Tony Clement, Minister of Industry, Hon. James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage, and your Member of Parliament to raise your concern about this potential legislation. If you are not aware of your Member of Parliament and require their address, you can obtain this information on the Elections Canada website http://www.elections.ca or at http://www.parl.gc.ca. A list of contacts and their addresses (pdf) is available if you choose to raise your concerns further.

Please inform us by email (copyrightlobby@athabascau.ca) of any correspondence you send to the federal government.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Frits Pannekoek, PhD
President
Athabasca University

Related Documents: Copyright Legislation Overview (pdf)

This week I had a chance to attend a ‘Community Dinner’ event in Winnipeg on behalf of TRLabs.  This research and development company works with the academic and business communities to develop new technology solutions, or as the TRLabs tagline states: “Fast Tracking Innovation to Market”.  The keynote speaker, the provincial Minister for Science, Technology, Energy and Mines, started out with remarks on the role of teams working cooperatively to create innovation, and how that cooperative effort helps to minimize or mitigate risk.  I have to confess that at this point I became distracted thinking about teams, innovation and risk, and what these have meant for business and IT at a practical level. What better way to justify that distraction than to share some of those thoughts with all of you as this month’s blog?

Innovation has been floating through the buzzword-world for several years now.  At first it was pretty cool: it evoked feelings of adventure, exploration and discovery.  Innovation meant going where ‘no-one had gone before’ and how could anyone from the Star Trek generation not respond to that?  Books were written on the need for innovation; awards were created to recognize innovation; every business strategy and objectives list managed to incorporate at least one (or more) ‘innovation strategies’.  Some organizations even went as far as to create a new senior position: ‘Chief Innovation Officer’ – usually in an attempt to rebrand the existing Chief Information Officer role by adding onto that individual some extraordinary expectations to ‘innovate’ the business.  We all knew CIOs were super-humans, but now they even had the power of business life-and-death in their hands!

Innovation isn’t a new word or concept, but in our culture it has become synonymous with technology solutions and is frequently looked on as the sole responsibility of IT.  Often the business role in innovation appears to be limited to making demands of IT and then waiting for the solutions to appear. Somewhere in between IT is expected to perform magic – pulling an innovation ‘rabbit’ out of the technology ‘hat’ – all at no additional cost to the management, of course.  What are missing in this scenario, though, are the concepts of ‘teamwork’ and ‘risk’, which were key elements in the Minister’s comments at the TRLabs Community Dinner.

 From a business/IT alignment perspective, true innovation cannot be devolved solely to the CIO and IT department.  In fact, most IT resources and budget within an organization are dedicated to required projects and operational activities focused on maintaining and supporting the existing environment – the opposite of innovation. If IT is in a service delivery role, it isn’t in a position to take on the risk of pursuing innovation. If there is no risk, can we have true innovation?  It is unlikely that new ideas, processes or tools can be introduced into a business without affecting the current environment in some way.  Even with mitigation strategies in place, risk and innovation walk together. Leadership to deal with both of these has to come from the executive and business leaders in collaboration with IT as a jointly responsible team.

True innovation requires a collaboration of the brightest, most creative and future-thinking minds from the executive, business, marketing and technology units, working together and willing to accept risks in order to ‘explore new worlds and seek out new life’ for the organization and their future.  Perhaps we can learn something from Star Trek after all!

As I rapidly approach the 30 year point of holding progressively advanced IT roles, I have to reflect on the changes that have taken place during these years.  These changes are not only in the way we define technology or the way we use technology, but more significantly in the way we view business.  At the risk of sounding as old as my driver’s license states, I have to admit that some of the old adages now ring true – everything old becomes new again.

 When I started my business career, it wasn’t in IT – I started in bank management.  Technology at that time consisted of manual and electronic adding machines and typewriters.  I remember the excitement when the bank moved to automated posting terminals for tellers, and everyone had to learn to enter on keyboards rather than manually process stacks of cash, cheques and adding machine tapes.  It wasn’t easy for many of the tellers who had spent decades handling paper, but the inherent value of automating the transactions to provide faster information and to reduce errors was recognized.  The business value of introducing the technology was a strong driver for change and ensured that the role of technology was positioned appropriately for all staff.  Discussing alignment of business and technology was not necessary: technology existed to support business priorities.  My ’30 years in IT’ started after this experience.  Like so many in the late 70s, the fascination with technology lead me away from the safe world of business into the new world of ‘DP’ – data processing, the parent of ‘IT’ – information technology. 

 When I look back over the past 30 years and then forward into the near future, I see a business environment that looks very different from where I started, but is perhaps more closely aligned than ever before.  Business is coming out of its infatuation with all things technological and has embraced technology as a normal business tool to be used strategically to accomplish business objectives.  Alignment is properly positioned to ensure that technology activities, decisions and services exist as a result of, and in support of, business activities.  Helping organizations through this transition to emerge fully capable requires more than good business planning or good technology management.  Organizations need a new approach that combines strategic planning, business process reviews, organizational management and information management with a capable, integrated technology infrastructure and service environment.  We are on the verge of a new era where business and technology are synchronized in their goals, objectives and direction – true Business/IT Alignment.

Some time ago, I was asked to create a strategy document to increase the participation of women in post-secondary technology programs.  Declining enrolments in traditional computer and technical programs have been a concern of the educational community for some time.  There has been a corresponding concern within the business sector with an increasing demand for qualified IT resources.  The two elements: declining enrolments contrasted with increasing demand, have seemed at odds with the basic principles of  resource supply and demand.  Generally, where there is high demand for a role, there is also a related increased interest in training for that role.  Why the disconnect with IT?  

One of the unchallenged explanations for decreasing resources has been the limited number of women participating in technology programs, (for a variety of reasons that I will not go into here).  The assumed solution to this has been to attract more women into technology and computer programs in an effort to expand the talent pool and build greater industry resource capacity.  Interestingly, these strategies have had limited or short term success, if at all.  Despite funding, marketing and program restructuring, women and men are equally displaying a lack of interest in pursuing formal computer and technology education, to the frustration and puzzlement of academic institutions.

Examining this environment and the factors involved, I reached some very different conclusions as to strategies to reverse the trend. My examination of this issue revealed some interesting information: although business and industry were clamouring for more ‘IT resources’, there were more and more ‘IT resources’ either unable to find jobs or losing jobs.  Technology and computer program grads were finding it difficult to secure even entry level positions.  Business wanted more IT staff, but the available IT resources weren’t who they wanted; clearly there was a disconnect in how the term ‘IT resources’ was being used across the sectors.  The IT roles that business needs aren’t produced by the computer and technology training provided within the existing post-secondary programs.  Demand for these roles is decreasing as technology is consolidated and converged, and frequently needs are being filled by off-shore providers more economically and efficiently.  As technology infrastructure and telecom moves into the ‘assumed utility’  status, the technical computer training needed has become less high profile and less appealing to students as a career choice. 

The business demand for ‘IT resources’ is focused on a different skills set:  business and technology knowledge workers.  These are the new ‘IT resources’, not the computer programmers and network specialists.  Business is finding these new IT resources not in the computer and technology programs, but rather coming out of the business, management, science and communications programs.  Individuals with technology knowledge acquired through experience and personal development, combined with formal academic instruction in specific areas of business or industry specialization, are the high-demand, highly valued, new ‘IT resources’.  In particular, the highest demand has been on business analysis and business process expertise, and for understanding business strategy and planning as it related to technology decisions. 

So what did I conclude about strategies to increase the participation of women in technology programs?  The short answer: don’t.   It turns out that women have been moving into the newly defined IT roles from other academic programs even though (or perhaps because) they had been avoiding the traditional ‘computer/technology’ path – and there are indications that men are beginning to follow the same route.  Rather than investing more funds, marketing resources and energy into promoting the traditional IT programs, post-secondary institutions should be building more technology focused components into their other programs for all students.  The solution to the IT skills shortage isn’t to create more specialized technicians, but to incorporate the basic understanding of the role of technology, skills development and the process of enablement into all knowledge areas.   If we do this, we can quickly address the  IT resource shortage by making all graduates prospects within their particular business or industry! 

Sounds an awful lot like Business/IT Alignment to me!

I have just received a new professional designation from ISACA/ITGI: Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT – CGEIT.  I’ve also noticed that when the world ‘governance’ finds its way into a conversation, it causes either an avoidance or denial reaction. Perhaps it’s because we associate the word with ‘government’, which means ‘bureaucracy’ to most, which isn’t necessarily so.  It’s an unfortunate semantic legacy that links the two in listeners’ minds.  Dealing with organizations, I try to redefine the word governance for them to disengage it from this ‘bureaucratic’ association:  Governance is simply about making sure that the right roles are making the right decisions about the right things.  It doesn’t have to be more complicated or more frightening than that.

Over my many years of experience dealing with IT and business environments, I find that governance issues are frequently at the core of problems being experienced at an operational or service delivery level.  Yet these issues are seldom recognized by the organization involved, and when revealed, often dismissed as a priority for action.  It seems that most organizations would prefer to continue to put time and effort into dealing with symptoms than resolve a governance issue.  This is unfortunate since in most instances re-aligning governance requires minimal cost or effort and results in optimal, long-term benefits for the organization. 

Business/IT Alignment is about making sure the right IT decisions are being made for the right business reasons.  Governance helps provide structure to the processes and roles involved in those decisions. If having the right roles make the right decisions about the right things is important for your organization, contact me for a Business/IT Alignment governance ‘check-up’.