I’ve long been bothered by the notion of (B)usiness (I)T alignment, as being far too (BI)nary(!) The picture just isn’t that simple. Yet again, I think I’ve encountered why.
Mid-way through a five-day strategy formulation process, working with a major distribution company, we’ve got a half-finished map of each executive’s individual perceptions of two things. Firstly, how important each of eleven different types of value is to the company’s business strategy, and secondly the extent to which the company can create any of those eleven types of value by exploiting IT.
The motive for doing this is to formulate the ‘promise’ of the company’s strategy for exploiting IT. The company will use this strategy to focus everyone’s IT-related decisions on creating those types of value that are (a) important to the business strategy, and where (b) exploiting IT can make a real difference. Equally they’re aiming to avoid the trap of inadvertently focusing too much energy and investment on types of value which are either not that important to the business strategy, or where the company can’t really exploit IT to create significant value.
We’re having a conversation with each executive in turn. It would be strange if everyone gave identical answers, even to our first question, and they haven’t. With half the executives’ views compiled into a matrix, most of the value types already have a range of responses for both questions, some very close (e.g. Medium-High) and some covering the extremes (High-None). There are, however, some noticeable patterns emerging to provide us with a basic rationale for the strategy and its promise.
As the process concludes, one potentially dangerous development would be if the executives felt they had to smooth over the differences it has exposed. The purpose of this process is not to ‘align’ the executives with each other. There may be a couple of areas where debating the differences may be fruitful, but it’s human nature to have differing views on how valuable something is and strategically it’s better to accept and work with these differences than try to flatten them.
So the reminder concerning “Business-IT alignment” is that within “the business” people aren’t aligned with each other. That’s both natural and – as long as know how to work with it – useful. I suspect if we did the same process with people in “IT” we’d find a similar outcome – they’re not aligned with each other, either. Getting, and keeping, everyone in “the business” and “IT” aligned would take immeasurable effort, a long, long time and destroy the dynamics and energy that make a strategy succeed.
A coporate strategist explained to me many years ago that it’s the misalignments between people that give a strategy its energy. Wise words, never forgotten.