Step back and think: How would you answer the question, “What does your IT group deliver to your business?” Your answer will indicate how you think about the relationship between business and technology, and, in turn, it will affect your business agility and your business-IT alignment.

If you answer anything close to “IT delivers and integrates solutions to meet business requirements,” your mental model boils down to thinking that your solutions support the business: Business is one thing; solutions are a separate thing. If the business has a problem, let it come ask IT for some application to address the problem — maybe IT will even help the business figure out what it needs. Each application supports (typically overlapping) parts of the business, and IT performs whatever behind-the-scenes integration is necessary to gain some degree of coherency across the whole. The result is the sort of siloed spaghetti application mess that most organizations are dealing with — even if SOA and BPM and the rest make it easier to deal with.

In Forrester’s work on Business Capability Architecture, we see a Copernican shift necessary in the relationship between business and technology. As you may know, in the 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus published On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, which corrected our understanding of the solar system from a geocentric view (planets and the sun revolving around the earth) to a heliocentric view (planets revolving around the sun). Before and after Copernicus, the skies looked the same, but suddenly phenomena like retrograde planetary movement (planets moving backwards in the sky) made sense.

With business software, it’s time for a similar shift in the center around which IT delivery revolve. To wit:

  • STOP thinking: “IT delivery revolves around a collection of separate (siloed) applications.” In past times, it was adequate to operate with a mindset of “business depends on technology.” In this mindset, first comes the business, next comes the technology — in fits and starts and silos.
  • START thinking: “IT delivery revolves around the design and implementation of the business.” These days, technology is as integral to business as are people, finances, suppliers, business partners, raw materials, contracts, and all the rest. There are so many design tradeoffs between physical and digital aspects of business that the two must be designed and built as a unified whole. Thus, the new mindset is that “your business is embodied in your technology.” Technology strategy guides how digital and physical world elements combine to build a running business.

In other words, your business and your solutions are one thing: an integrated physical-digital composite — a business capability implementation. Business-IT alignment is built in because the two are designed concurrently as one. With the design and implementation of your business capabilities at the center, technology-based implementations become a second-order artifact. For example:

  • Design your business transactions in line with how a businessperson would think about them, and then implement them as SOA-based business services, ready when needed for use by any employee, customer, partner, or process. It doesn’t matter which solution your service implementations come from — or even if your business services are in the cloud.
  • Design your user roles, and provide each role with the tool built around the role’s processes, queries, contacts, transactions, and context. Rather than tossing 10 generic applications at users, provide an integrated set of views that pull as needed from the 10 applications — and more.

It's a big change and an evolution over time, but in the end, business change is easier to accomplish because built-in alignment means that your technology implementations are designed to change in the same ways that your business changes. The design of your business — business transactions, user roles, and so on — becomes mirrored in a coherent portfolio of technology-based assets. Within Forrester’s vision of Business Capability Architecture, we see several of these “business design focal points,” and we’ll be talking more about them as the new center for your application strategy and architecture planning.

What is the center of your IT delivery? How can you move to a better center?