Aligning technology with business strategy and adopting a problem-solving discipline will make an organisation more successful, say Colin Beveridge
Aligning IT with business strategy is a hot topic at the moment, a very hot topic and rightly so.
Indeed, I have spent more and more of my time over the past couple of years, writing about alignment and discussing this with other concerned IT directors.
Please note, though, that I am not talking about aligning IT with “the business”, such a concept is naturally redundant because the IT function is fundamentally an integral part of “the business” and not a separate entity requiring alignment. At least that’s how it should be.
Nevertheless, it is crucial that we not only align IT with our business strategy but also keep it permanently aligned. How else will we make sure that our technology remains relevant and adds persistent value to a successful organisation?
This seems like such an obvious position that it should be unnecessary for me to raise the issue at all.
But, in my experience, the alignment of IT with business strategy is seldom, if ever, practised effectively and is one of the great, albeit unwritten, taboos of our industry. Some even actively decry the need for alignment, claiming the simple, but spurious, argument that IT is part of the business.
Well, I think that it’s high time for us all to bite the unsavoury bullet and take very positive immediate action to align our technology with our business strategy, once and for all. And I believe that we need to set about tackling this problem in a structured, logical manner, befitting our declared role as business systems professionals.
Quite simply, I am convinced that the only way we can achieve the necessary alignment between IT and business strategy is to employ the best tool for the job: systems thinking.
Systems thinking is a vital problem-solving discipline, founded on the principles of feedback loops. In other words, the way in which cause and effect are inextricably linked to each other and, most importantly, how a dynamic feedback effect can establish either a reinforcing or a balancing relationship between the two elements of cause and effect.
A clear example of such a feedback loop in operation can be observed by looking at the relationship between our technology and our business strategy.
If we have a clear understanding of our business strategy, then we can determine the appropriate technology required to deliver the strategy. Likewise, if our strategic understanding is impaired, then our technology choices may be flawed, or inadequate. In each situation we can see the causal feedback relationship between strategic awareness and technology choice.
I honestly believe that systems thinking can help every organisation to improve their business planning and management with dramatic results, particularly in the IT arena.
Unfortunately, the penetration of systems thinking within the IT community is so low as to be virtually non-existent. For sure, there are some practitioners quietly reaping the benefits; but these are few and far between.
The truth is that we need more systems thinkers to emerge from our ranks and I wholeheartedly suggest that applying such techniques to the problem of aligning IT with business strategy is an excellent way to develop the systems thinking skills that will greatly enhance our personal and professional stock, while delivering genuine value to our own particular organisations.
Maybe more people might get involved if we dropped the term systems thinking, with its misleading allusion to IT systems, and substituted instead a more accurate description like “joined-up thinking”.
Now that’s a powerful proposition. And a radical proposition too, I suspect, in many quarters. But well worth a try, if we really want to mature and progress.
Colin Beveridge is an independent consultant and leading commentator on technology management issues. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org