We are Borg…resistance is futile! (Business & IT Integration?)

Published on Wednesday 7 November 2012 by in Blog, News with no comments




This was the fifth in our series of Business and IT alignment workshops at international ITSM events, aimed at capturing critical success and fail factors in Business and IT alignment. So far, together with our international partners we have captured findings in Belgium, Chile, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and now also in the UK, home of the ITIL framework.

With the UK being the birth place of ITIL you would surely expect that here Business and IT alignment is at a more mature level?

This news blog contains the findings of our workshop at the ITSM12 event in London, which reveals that the UK is faced with exactly the same issues as the rest of us. This item also contains added value quotes from 3 Industry practitioners at the event, whom I respect enormously for their (tireless and passionate) approach to addressing the Business & IT alignment issue.

Why this series of events?  For more than 10 years Business & IT alignment has been a top issue for CIO’s.  The latest manifestation of ITIL, as well as ITSM industry pundits and Guru’s talk about Business and IT integration. We totally agree that this is what we strive for. However this is a long way from the reality of the hundreds of organizations we talk to during our world-wide workshops and surveys.

With the explosive development of emerging technologies and the increased  demand for IT within the business we can no longer afford to fail to align…..er sorry, integrate. This word ‘integrate’ reminds me of the Star-trek episode in which the race of beings called the Borg , who want to ‘raise the quality of life’ of the beings they ‘assimilate’  simply don’t understand or accept resistance. Their catchphrase being ‘We are the Borg. Resistance is futile!’.  I think IT is the real life ‘Borg’!

‘We are IT we are here to integrate…..to assimilate you into our processes…resistance is futile!’. We seem to think that Business and IT Integration is our right!. There is however one glaring difference with Star-trek…..the business has no need for phasers and weapons of mass-destruction….The business simply needs to outsource the ‘IT Borgs’ who don’t get it!  The Borgs who fail to align their capabilities with business needs. Let’s not start talking about integration until we realize trust and credibility in our alignment with the business.

So IT and Business alignment has been an issue for more than 10 years. The question is ‘Why have we failed to achieve this? despite the amount of alignment frameworks such as ITIL, ISO20000, CobIT, and despite the massive investment in training and certification’.

This series of workshops is aimed at discovering why, and for providing practical, pragmatic suggestions as to what needs to be done to bring the alignment…or integration a step closer. One thing is for certain. Current approaches are not working, other interventions are required. Which is why we developed our Business and IT alignment business simulations.

In a Forrester report a year or two ago, it was revealed that only 15% of IT managers said they were aligned whilst 80% of Business managers stated the importance of IT in delivering Value in terms of lowering costs,  improving productivity, acquiring and retaining customers. Jerry Luftman who wrote a book on Business and IT alignment and who has assessed many of the Fortune 500 companies revealed the following key issues: ‘Understanding of IT by the Business’ and ‘Building Business skills in IT’.

It is a continuing problem that needs solving and current initiatives and efforts are not working.

At the itSMF event we used a Business simulation called Grab@Pizza as an intervention instrument to finally help break through the issues, to enable business & IT to better understand each other, and  to work together to develop solutions.  The delegates played the business and IT management team of a fictitious Pizza company called Grab@Pizza. Their task was to turn-around a poor performing organization and exploit emerging technologies to increase revenue, reduce costs and gain new customers.

What did the team see, feel and experience during the simulation that they could relate to reality?

Key barriers:

The teams immediately displayed the ABC of ICT worst practices which are regularly chosen in workshops.

  • IT has too little understanding of business impact and priority (lack of understanding of business strategy and the impact and cost of outages and delays).
  • IT is too internally focused (failing to align investments, decision making and priority mechanisms to business cycles and business needs).
  • IT dived into the ‘content’, the ‘processes’, the ‘technique’, the ‘doing and processing of calls, incidents, problems, changes ‘….without knowing the business strategy or goals.
  • ITIL is the objective not what it should achieve. (individual units, ‘silos’ developed their own processes, with little alignment and integration BETWEEN processes, and little alignment with realizing business value, outcomes or mitigating costs and risks.
  • The business managers displayed a typical ABC worst practice for business managers ‘Everything has the highest priority according to the business’ and a ‘lack of involvement’ in governing IT.
  • The team had created a ‘them and us’ culture and attitude, little understanding of each others needs and not enough trust.

During the reflection and learning moments we explored these fail factors and helped the team to effectively apply ITSM best practices and decision making, helping  choose the right improvements in their CSI approach. The right improvements being those that help demonstrate business value or help realize business outcomes and those aimed at reducing wasted costs and business risks.

At the end of the simulation the teams captured their key learning points for making Business and IT alignment a success.
This is what they discovered.

Change management

  • The need for effective impact assessment of changes. Impact on the internal organization and processes, and impact on the business. Change Management MUST understand business Value, Outcomes, Costs and Risks.
  • The need for a strategic change meeting involving business and IT, to balance the portfolio of changes around V,O,C,R.
  • Change assessments and recommendations MUST contain the business case. Changes must be justified.


  • Prioritize activities – based upon business priority and impact.
  • It is EVERYBODY’s job to understand business priority and impact. ITSM is now a strategic capability, ITSM people are strategic assets and must start behaving accordingly, which means business understanding. Understanding the business cycles and the impact of outages.
  • Need for effective governance, which means effective decision making capabilities AND authorities. ITSM processes must enable management and control capabilities and provide the information to support decision making.
  • ITSM process managers must understand ‘what information is needed between processes to enable effective decision making and prioritization, and who is authorized to take decisions; .

Problem management

  • Must learn to make a business case, based upon V,O,C,R to the business. This means understanding the business, business cycle times, impact of outages  and communicating in business terms.
  • PM must align with other internal processes (e.g Infrastructure monitoring and  operations, change planning, testing and validation) to effectively allocate resources for analyzing outages and their causes, and to make improvement suggestions and request changes.
  • PM is undervalued. IT is NOT there to solve incidents. IT should be preventing incidents or reducing the costs, risks and impact to value and outcomes caused by outages.


  • Communication – business does not communicate in a timely way, or the right information. The business does not know what information is relevant to IT and when.
  • Business MUST ensure that IT understands business cycles and the impact of outages as well as future plans for IT needs.
  • Service portfolio management together with Service catalogue management are vital strategic instruments for IT. To understand, discuss and prioritize current and future allocation and investments.
  • There needs to be a balance in IT and Business maturity and relationship.
  • Service Portfolio management is an instrument that helps facilitate understanding for both business & IT and enables IT to be involved earlier in the decision making process.

IT management

  • Must develop trust and credibility with the business.
  • Must learn to communicate in business terms, understand business needs in terms of V,O,C,R.
  • Must ensure that ALL in IT are aware of this and how THEIR role/process contributes to this.
  • Must ensure that the processes enable effective decision making and deliver management capabilities, enabling IT to demonstrate value.

See here the key learning points captured globally.

Colin Rudd the itSMF UK chairman added some valuable additional insights into success and fail factors (re-iterating his advice to CIO’s in the itSMF publication ‘This could be the start of something big – Increasing the value of your IT services’  in which he stated ‘…is achieved by having the right personalities, developing the right relationships, with the right lines of communication’).

Colin concludes ‘ there are ALWAYS issues in these areas, they need to be consciously addressed and managed’. The relationship is more than the framework, processes and formalized procedures and responsibilities.

Colin also stressed the critical role of Problem management, adding a cautionary note. Problem management staff are traditionally strong in technology skills. Careful consideration needs to be given to training, skilling and enabling staff to develop realationships and learn to communicate in business terms.  This is NOT a typical set of CORE competences for technology staff – another symptom of the gap in alignment between business and IT.

Mark Smalley, self professed  IT paradigmologist and BiSL & Information management expert also presented the need for improving the alignment between business and IT in his packed session ‘Reinvent IT Service Management and pre-empt Occupy IT’ He also stressed ‘I’m convinced that that although IT people need a combination of technical competences and business insight (the latter usually needing more effort than the former) to fulfill their side of the bargain, they often forget to invest enough in a precondition, namely developing a decent human relationship with their business partners. If there’s no meaningful relationship, there’s no trust and if there’s no trust and if you don’t think that’s your first priority, then you’ve lost the plot.  So invest in the relationship by showing genuine interest (and as a by-product, discovering what the business actually does instead of what you imagine they do or should be doing in an ideal world) and by demonstrating personal integrity (set realistic expectations and ensure that you meet them or managed them to avoid unwanted surprises), otherwise accept eternal frustration from being misunderstood and wallow in your victimhood. Steven Covey: seek first to understand, then to be understood. 

And if your relationship is really on the rocks, get a BITA marriage councellor. Or divorce and move on. The kids will understand. Really’.

Andrea Kis, Service Delivery Manager, for Macmillan Cancer Support, a champion for a more pragmatic and practical approach to BRM.    ‘BRM isn’t about giving a fancy job title to a senior person in your organisation or sitting in an office, attending management meetings with KPI and SLA reports on service uptimes and achievements. It is something which can be and needs to be done by everyone, from front line teams like the IT Service Desk to anyone who is ever in touch with the business, your customer. It isn’t a job title, it is a work style, a way you look after your business customers. You have to be willing to get out there and get your hands dirty. Get to know all your customers in the business, what they think, how they work. Talk to them, find out what is their true opinion about the service you are providing and base your improvement plans on this opinion. Theory and frameworks can be very well adapted but it will only be a theory and never reality if you don’t get out there to be one with your business customers. 

As a a Service Delivery Manager I made BRM a vital part of my role. It wasn’t a so called ‘hat’ I felt like I need to wear.  For example I spent a day on the road with a mobile worker to experience exactly the same they experience when working in a non office environment. Being on the road with a mobile worker made me realise that while a Windows7 remote access is perfect in ‘laboratory’ conditions working in busy London with strong wifi connection, the same didn’t work for someone based in the Yorkshire moors or Scottish Highlands. So we had to rethink what do we do differently for them to make sure the service offering works for all in the business”.







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