Business speak completely confuses me. My department(the IT department in a large bureaucracy) claims to be going through a "re-alignment" to become a "service oriented organization." What does that actually mean?
These terms are deliberately vague and there is no industry standard definition. Both terms usually refer to (1) laying off employees and/or (2) changing the management structure and goals.
Focusing on the first point, hiring and firing, "re-organization" and "re-alignment" can be euphemisms for firing a portion of a department, usually to save money. Terms like this avoid panic but still communicate the intention.
Regarding the second point, changing management structure and goals, management usually separates one department from others, identifies the interactions or "services" offered to/by other departments and charges for them. This helps understand what the department does, what resources it consumes/provides and ensuring fair payment or funding between departments.
In extreme cases, this may be a precursor to outsourcing. If the departments are separated and are used to specifying, tracking and paying for services, there is no reason why some or all services need to be provided by the same company. However, it is more likely to just be a cost tracking and containment exercise.
If there is any difference -- and usually there isn't -- realignment is about adjusting the company to better fit market needs and reorg is about making it more efficient. But the two overlap strongly and very few folks really care what it's called except outside analysts who don't have any other details to pontificate about.
It means there will be changes. They may be good changes, they may be bad changes. People may lose their jobs, people may get promoted, more people might be hired.
In general, in a re-organization, various organizational entitities will change their reporting relationships. Sometimes this happens because you have new CEO who wants to make a quick mark on the organization or wants to move the organization to a structure he is used to working in (in his mind HR should always report to Finance rather than being a separate group to take an example not chosen at random.), sometimes it happens for financial reasons so that they can eliminate levels of management, sometimes it happens due to sudden large growth and the need to add more people becasue managers can only directly supervise so many people. Sometimes it happens because one person leaves and they decide to move his/her subordinates rather than hire a new senior manager. I have been in reorganizations where the number of people remained the same, where we went for 200 people to 900 people and where we dropped a couple of hundred people. In a re-org thosough usually the job duties remain roughly the same but the actual workload is expanding or contracting.
In a realignment, they are generally changing the type of business responsibilites the organizational entities perform or the products they support. This means job duties (and qualificatiosn to perform those jobs) wil change for those affected.
Again, this can mean more work with fewer people, more work with more people, the same amount of work for the people who stay but job losses for those who supported a product that is no longer being sold, or a huge new workforce to support a blockbuster new product. Sometimes a realignment even happens to avoid a layoff, changing job duties of the people you want to keep when you contract out their other duties.
It could mean that instead of having 12 HR people with 4 doing recruiting and 8 handling benefits, that they will have 14 HR people with 10 doing recruiting and 4 doing benefits. In a case like this, they may be laying off and hiring at the same time depending on whether the benefits people who are losing their function are qualified to be recruiting people and/or whether they are perceived to be employees that the organization wants to keep.
This sort of thing can happen in software as well. I might need 10 new C# programmers, but I might no longer need Java programmers at all. Can all of the Java programmeres convert? Will they all be offered jobs in the new aligment of work? That will be company specific and may well depend on how much the organization likes your work and what your current qualifications are.
Even realignments that increase the total number of positions may have layoffs as it is a good time to get rid of the people you think are your bottom performers. This may espcially be true of sales forces. If you haven't been meeting your quota, you will almost certainly be laid off ina a sales force realignment.
Take the Pharmaceutical industry for example. Typically they have sales forces who represent a particular drug. Suppose a new drug is approved by the FDA, then the organization will have a realignment to set up the sales force for that drug. They might take reps from other sales forces of drugs which are not as important as the new drug and move them to supporting the new one. In this type of decision making, the organization will also look at whether they need all of what they have or if they want to reduce the sales force in the process by eliminating certain less profitable drugs from being actively pushed. Often in the process of realigning, they change the names of the organizational entitities because their basic job duties have changed.
In theory, redundancy is supposed to mean that there is less work to be done of a particular type (in which case your job may be at risk). There are, however, many other words used (rightly or wrongly) in its place.
In practice, redundancy also gets used to mean that there is the same amount of work to be done but that the business reckons it can squeeze more work out of fewer staff. Again, your job would be at risk.
Reorganisation tends to mean the company has noticed that some teams perform better than others and, rather than enquire why, has chosen to play musical chairs (possibly changing the size of said teams), until performance improves. It probably won't and your job may be at risk when the music stops.
Rationalisation tends to mean the company has recently discovered it has no idea how much it is spending and why and thinks the best way to determine what is wrong is to fire people and see if anything breaks. Consequently, your job may be at risk.
Restructuring tends to mean the company has come to the conclusion that its job descriptions are out of date and its line reporting structure would confuse Escher, and at least one senior manager wants to make their mark on the company and demonstrate they can save money by paying fewer people to do things, which means your job may be at risk.
Realignment tends to mean the company has just noticed it's senior management's strategy made no sense in the business environment and are making a beeline for a get-rich scheme. As a result, your job may be at risk.
However, do not rely too heavily on the use of one word or another: it might be that someone in HR has recently discovered how to abuse a thesaurus. Your employment situation in such circumstances is unpredictable.
I'll use some programming examples to help it make sense. Your company is claiming a realignment because they are altering their target market and/or what they are offering. This is the same as making a major coding change like being a desktop application to a web app.
Reorganization means you aren't changing your target market and/or what you offer, but how the company is structured internally to manage what you do. This is similar to refactoring your code. You could be making major changes in the amount of code, but the code still behaves the same way. Or think of it as the difference between keeping or breaking an interface.
Other than improved performance, the customer really shouldn't recognize a reorganization. Could you really tell if Microsoft increased or decreased the levels of management from a customer's perspective? Now if Microsoft decided to shift from focusing on hardware and removed a lot of their software offerings, customers would notice that.