Alignment – between the projects of the IT department and the demands of the business – is one of the most talked about technology objectives.

The reason is clear. With limited cash to spend on new IT, CIOs must prove to the business that technology can provide a quick return on investment.

Business intelligence (BI) scores at two levels: first, it can help executives understand the success of business initiatives; second, it can help IT leaders prove the value of technology spending.

Both levels will be significant as business expectations of IT continue to shift. Evidence comes from analyst Gartner, whose 2010 CIO survey suggests businesses are keen to invest in services-based and social media technologies.

These two areas are fast developing, and hyped, areas of IT development. Businesses looking to emerge stronger from the downturn will need to bet on the right horse; invest at the wrong time and you are likely to waste the wager.

It is, therefore, surprising to see that BI – which was the number one technology area in Gartner’s priority list for the past five years – has dropped to number five. So, is this the end for business intelligence?

No, far from it – your work in BI is still far from done and 2010 will be the year this software comes of age. The detailed analytics provided through the right BI platform will prove crucial in cash constrained circumstances.

Executives will be expecting to lead their business successfully from the downturn, taking advantage of the upturn as new opportunities arise. Analytical software will help senior leaders to identify these openings.

The need for detailed information means CIOs will still pay for BI. While spending on IT dropped by 5.2% in 2009, Gartner expects investment in BI, analytics and performance management to rise by 8.1% through 2013.

When it comes to investing in BI, act with care. Look for an organisation that can provide a broad spectrum of services and systems. Just like the relationship between IT and finance, alignment with your BI partner is everything.

The bottom line is that a deeper understanding of reporting, planning and performance is keep if your business is to make informed and timely decisions.