by Peter B. Nichol

Leading organizational change with strategic alignment

Feb 22, 2018
Digital TransformationIT StrategyTechnology Industry

Forget about IT maturity curves, focus on strategic alignment.

A quick search for “IT maturity models” on Google produces over 4 million results. Finding the right maturity model is about as useful as searching through the millions of records looking for a single actionable process to achieve IT maturity.

IT maturity models, maturity curves, and capability models all attempt to find your location on a map. The models do identify your location, but the effectiveness of these models is akin to a waypoint or dot placed on a white piece of paper. The model’s methodology is, of course, proven by increased corporate adoption. However, this doesn’t prove or qualify fitness-for-purpose and more closely resembles website clicks, not engagement. Sure, it’s good to know 1,000 companies clicked on that link—but how does that really matter?

Our challenge as executives is to outline steps to improve strategic alignment, which we define as the process and result of linking an organization’s structure and resources with its strategy and environment.

Strategic alignment

The MIT Center for Information Systems Research published a strategic alignment model (SAM) titled, The Strategic Alignment: A Framework for Strategic Information Technology Management.

In its simplest form, the strategic alignment model has four components (abridged for brevity):

  1. Business strategy
  2. Information-technology strategy
  3. Organizational processes
  4. Information systems and infrastructure processes

These components can be summarized as the finite resources of every organization: time, people, finance, and individual and organizational capabilities. Strategic alignment doesn’t care about IT-to-business alignment or IT maturity curves. Alignment is about reducing uncertainly regarding the future. It helps leaders grasp challenges and opportunities for the future business environment. Successful leaders leverage organizational strengths against external threats. To do this efficiently, we must have internal agreement on our strategy.

Who’s the driver?

The essence of strategic alignment can be condensed into a single question: “Is the organization following a business strategy or an IT strategy?” We have dual polarities that need to converge. On one side, we have technologies that aren’t involved in business strategy and, on the other, we have business leaders who aren’t participating in the technological strategy. Both roles need to integrate decision making for more effective outcomes.

Four criteria make up the levers of strategic alignment:

  • Communications
  • Partnership
  • Skills
  • Governance

Communication broadcasts transformation across the organization to establish a mutual understanding among stakeholders. IT has an obligation to make the criticality of IT decisions more transparent and digestible for business partners. Likewise, business partners must help improve the understanding of businesses by IT.

Partnerships establish shared goals and objectives for measuring outcomes. This mutual understanding increases business awareness of IT and pulls IT into more of the strategic business-planning processes.

Skills are defined competencies that are individually and organizationally required for achieving outcomes. This perspective isn’t only retrospective or focused on today’s requirements but also prospective, asking what future skills are necessary.

Governance integrates business and IT planning. We move the needle from the cost-containment aspect of IT to the revenue-generating entity. By involving IT in business planning, IT can prepare for future capabilities that currently aren’t supported.

Questioning strategic alignment

When you think of strategic alignment, what comes to mind? Do you find yourself looking at a recent PowerPoint deck with an illustration of the future business model? Do you think about a vision communicated by a single leader? If you do, you’re not alone.

What if, when the words “strategic alignment” are mentioned, you envision a dynamic discussion of leaders with a combination of business and IT capability knowledge working together to define a future state? After all, that’s what we’re driving toward—a unified model for change that ensures adoption and maximizes customer value.

Leaders must be aligned with strategic change in an organization. Strategic alignment removes common barriers to transformation. Achieving strategic alignment defines your processes to ensure the greatest customer benefit from organizational knowledge. Successful adoption of strategic alignment begins at the top. Forget about dots on a maturity map and concentrate instead on fostering communication, building partnerships, growing skills, and establishing governance.