The mythology of ‘IT-Business alignment’

How well do your organisation’s business strategies adapt to the volatile, hyper-connected world in which we operate? Are your organisation’s business strategies shelfware? How can you tell?

A 2010 worldwide survey of over 2,300 executives of multi-business companies were surveyed as to how they approach the development of corporate strategy, and found that “—just 19 percent of all respondents to this survey—say their companies have a distinct process for developing corporate strategy” and, more importantly “Nearly a quarter, however, think their companies should engage in corporate strategy development on an ongoing basis  (as opposed to episodically), compared with only 8 percent who say they currently do”

Aligning with adaptability

Therein lies the challenge for enterprise IT.  Developing a high value, resilient and adaptive ongoing enterprise IT capability (or any other mission-critical function within the organisation, for that matter) in the face of an ill-defined, outdated or poorly articulated business strategy is nirvana.

For organisations to be adaptable and responsive in our volatile technological, commercial and regulatory environments, their business strategic, operational and tactical plans should be routinely tested for relevance, and validated as required to reflect the changing circumstances.

Just like climbing Mt Everest – regular updates on the weather should shape your strategies and plans. Not doing so, could be fatal.

Recognition that an effective, trusted and engaged IT function is key to ensuring that your organisation thrives and survives in our competitive, volatile environment.

It takes two to tango

Change is inevitable – and that will arise on both sides of the business / IT fence.  If information technologies are critical to the viability of your organisation, any assumptions that your enterprise IT has a clear visibility over the forces acting on your business strategies needs to be tested. Similarly, the IT leadership cadre should not assume that the organisation’s executives have an interest or awareness of the IT strategy (which, in reality should be a business strategy with a technology dependency).

Alignment is not the end goal.

Effective, close coupled coordination between the organisation and enterprise IT at all levels is.  Additionally, the respective and shared accountabilities for delivering outcomes between IT and key organisational stakeholders should be clearly articulated.

Know when it’s not working

Organisations that are at war with their own IT departments should raise the white flag, and this situation should be remedied swiftly if the organisation is to harness the maximum transformational value of enterprise technologies.

Where IT is continually blamed for the poor ‘delivery’ of enterprise IT projects, Shadow IT is flourishing across the organisation, vendor predation is rife, and the executive’s discussions always boil down to cutting IT costs, may have little to do with the technologies used or how they are managed.

Knowing which executive decisions contributed to your organisation ended up in this situation should provide useful insights as to a way out of this adversarial situation. And, by the way, keep a close eye on the systemic risks during this process.

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When it comes to implementing important, technology dependent business initiatives, management incentive schemes can be counterproductive if poorly designed.  Line of business managerial incentive schemes should be adjusted to reflect their accountability in ensuring that important enterprise IT projects are effectively implemented.

Your IT vendor or IT department (or both) should not be expected, in most instances, to unilaterally deliver and implement a solution and expect it will meet the organisation’s expectations.

Just like a good meal, you need to digest your own food to get the benefit! Your IT provider can be the chef and waiter, but the meal’s for your benefit. If not, change the menu, or try another food outlet!