Next-Generation Competence Center (Part III): Aligning Business And IT

Alfredo Mancini

In my previous article in this series, I examined the question: “Where is the business going, and consequently, what should the role of IT be?”

In this article, I will share an approach to align the business and IT strategy in a way that will keep the promise of long-lasting corporate brand identity.

You can say, “Where business goes, IT follows.” The problem is that the “where” (i.e., a desired target state) is hiding the “who” (i.e., who you are and who you want to be by reaching a new destination).

This reminds me of an evergreen quote from Lucius Annaeus Seneca: “Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.

The point is that the business and IT aims must be aligned, and the two identities should converge. The question is how to do that if what IT wants to do first is not necessarily what the business is asking for.

The conflicting identities of business and IT popped up a few months ago when I was breaking the ice with customers who were interested in managing their systems with a more agile IT competence center. They wanted this competence center to run and support the deployment of SAP S/4HANA, which was going live imminently.

I was looking for a model that would help them plan and build for their system landscape’s evolution. I ended up combining three key philosophies from very different sources:

  1. Logical levels learned in The Art & Science of Coaching training, which provides the structure for moving from an inspiring vision to more concrete actions in specific times and places
  1. The corporate brand identity matrix, from the Harvard Business Review, to find the “unique twist” of a company’s identity based on its brand or core values
  1. Diversity and inclusion concepts learned from SAP’s employee training, which adds the “fairness” spices

Starting with “logical levels”

The student guide for the Erickson Academy’s The Art & Science of Coaching shows a pyramid that elegantly sorts the structure and dependencies of “five plus one” logical levels:

Vision is the “plus one” level of the pyramid, which inspires identity (the top logical level) rooted in core values representing the reason specific behaviors (skills and actions) define the different ways to play in a given context.

Those general concepts also work well for business and IT people working together in alignment for a common vision, mission, and strategy:

  1. Identity: Who are you now? What sort of person/organization would you rather be? (Shifting into a new role)
  1. Values: Why is this important? What values does it have? (Values behind identity and vision)
  1. Skills: How will you achieve it? What capabilities do you have? What skills do you need to develop? (Knowledge, experience, methods, and tools)
  1. Actions/behaviors: What actions need to be taken? What steps could you take to support X? (Action plan, steps, behaviors)
  1. Environment: Where will you want this? When will you do it? (Time and geography)

Deriving IT mission, vision, and strategy from “corporate and brand identity”

Stephen A. Greyser and Mats Urde, in their HBR article “What Does Your Corporate Brand Stand For?” (issue 97, Jan./Feb. 2019), illustrate a framework for a corporate brand identity definition.

The brand core is at the center of the framework, surrounded by eight elements, making room for nine questions to be answered.

After reading this article, I thought of my current next-generation competence center design project and decided to first answer the corporate identity questions from the business point of view, then answer the same questions from the IT point of view.

My IT counterparts were dubious after the first attempt to answer the questions from the IT point of view. Later, when I insisted on doing this exercise in a timebox fashion (I stepped out of the room for less than an hour), I heard excitement and realized how well they did in filling out different forms twice, based on the different points of view.

The first time you answer the nine questions from both points of view – business (as suggested by HBR) and IT (for the sake of the next-generation IT competence center) – your answers might look sloppy or disconnected. This is because consistency must be checked along four directions, aimed at enhancing four “angles.”

The clearer and more logical your definitions (answers) and narrative (combination of answers), the more consistent the identity matrix and the stronger your identity will be. That’s provided that all the four directions are properly crossing the very same core values, i.e., core brand.

In short, check the nine answers in clusters of four, as follows:

  1. Strategy: Is the mission (what you promise) consistent with where you want to be (vision)?
  1. Competition: Is what you offer (your value proposition) unique due to particularly distinctive skills?
  1. Interaction: Does the way you interact (your relationships) delight your customers thanks to uncommon behaviors rooted in a well-known culture?
  1. Communication: Is your communication style fostered by unique personality traits?

Repeat this process a few times and try to discard concepts that don’t contribute to clear answers. Sometimes less is more.

Adding “diversity and inclusion”

Building a culture of diversity and inclusion plays an important role in aligning business and IT strategy.

Diversity and inclusion training can stretch minds, enrich vocabulary, and enhance the ability to think differently. It will create a balance between individual and collective culture and help you achieve measurable targets, fueling a new, more open, and correct way of working.

Here are some things to consider when building a culture of diversity and inclusion:

  1. Culture elements: Shared values, knowledge, experiences, beliefs, and behaviors
  1. Culture transmission: Socializing agents (people we are with) and institutions (school, government)
  1. Cultural attitudes: Role models made of different attributes, to be tuned up to better fit a given target cultural attitude:
    • Status: Rank-oriented (do what the boss commands) vs. equality-oriented (challenging/arguing with boss is OK)
    • Identity: Individual-oriented (what I/he did) vs. group-oriented (the result we made)
    • Activity: Task-oriented (duty first) vs. relationship-oriented (people first).
    • Risk: Risk-taker (change-driven) vs. stability-seeking (steady state is better)
    • Communication: Direct (talk/write clearly – facts only) vs. indirect (room for interpretation – body language)

Thinking more and deeply about who we are and who we want to be is always good for us and for the people who want to take action.

Are you intrigued or skeptical?

I’ll be happy to hear your comments and adjust the recipe for aligning business and IT strategy.

Stretch your mind on the Next-Generation Competence Center by reading my previous articles on the topic, “Part I” and  “Part II.”


About Alfredo Mancini

Alfredo Mancini is Business Transformation Services (BTS) chief at SAP. He works closely with CIOs and business executives to assess and reshape their organizations and to assist them in their digital transformation journeys. He joined SAP BTS in 2010, acted as CIO for three years in a financial startup, and spent more than 12 years in IT management consulting. He began his career at Olivetti in 1990, where he concentrated on researching and practicing artificial intelligence. Always curious and continuously refreshing his IT and business transformation knowledge, he crafts accelerated approaches aimed at the quick delivery of tangible outcomes. His natural playground is IT strategy and IT governance.