Forget alignment: business IT convergence will lead digital transformation

Business and IT alignment was once presented as the method for breaking the introverted, silo structure which stops IT from delivering business value. There is a fundamental flaw in the alignment model that is preventing IT from leading digital business transformation.

CIO and IT leaders have been trying for years to match business technology to the needs of the business. Most have failed in this aim.  Business IT alignment – once billed as the solution to the disconnect between technology and business needs – isn’t the solution.  It is indeed, part of the problem.

Let’s think about the concept of “Business and IT alignment” for a moment.  It sounds good on paper – suggesting a need to dovetail IT with the workings of the business.  By observing and then tweaking this connection, IT will become more in-tune with how people work and therefore deliver more effective IT services and technology.  So says the theory.

In my experience, alignment doesn’t work this way.  In reality, alignment doesn’t challenge or alter the status quo, it actually enforces it.   The problem is by ‘aligning’ with ‘the business’, IT continues operating as a separate entity trying to catch up with how the business already works.  By trying to align, IT is a follower which is subservient to the business. And while ‘the business’ may be great as operating as a business, it isn’t an expert in technology.

In other words, the culture of alignment means that business leads IT, despite not being qualified to do so.

Those businesses which have either succeeded in the digital era have either used technology to reinvent themselves or used disruptive technology as a competitive differentiator.  These companies, without exception, are using IT to build and execute their overall strategy.  IT, in other words, is defining the business strategy.  In the digital era, IT must define the strategic direction of the business.

Business and IT alignment is dead: long live Business and IT convergence
This is why we must forget about Business and IT alignment and instead think about Business and IT convergence.  In this model, IT is converged with how the business operates, because it sets and manages the digital agenda.  When Business and IT convergence works, there is no need to break down the barriers between the business and IT, because the IT department IS the business.  It is setting the technology agenda, delivering solutions and business capabilities to business units and redefining how technology drives those business capabilities that deliver the strategic organisational goals.  Businesses that master IT convergence are therefore able to deliver true digital transformation.

If you want to talk more about IT convergence and how to lead digital transformation, I’m at the SDI Conference next week, stand 10.  Come by and say hello, and enter in our draw to win Amazon Echo.

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Simon Kent
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