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“Strategic Alignment” – Profundity or Platitude?

Kailash Awati has a problem with strategic alignment. He says the concept makes no sense in the real world. Now, do not go greasing up your pitchforks and practicing your javelin throw just yet. Awati constructs a fair argument using an older paper by Claudio Ciborra as a foundation for why the idea of strategic alignment may not be all it is cracked up to be.

Chiefly, people seem unable to agree on what strategic alignment even literally is. The term of strategic alignment was cited in 1993 as a means to “guide management practice,” though Ciborra’s paper from four years later in 1997 noted that it was uncertain what strategic alignment actually meant or how it was to be achieved. A paper from last year recognizes that many different kinds of alignment have emerged in these recent years but that “no integrated and broadly accepted categorization exists and these dimensions are non-selective and do overlap.” Awati says that if there are lingering questions of what alignment actually is after this many years, there is probably something wrong with the concept.

He states via Ciborra that the potential reason why strategic alignment ever took hold in business is because it was hailed by academics for how practical the idea sounds in concept, even if it might be impossible to use in reality. Strategic alignment is supposed to function as a bridge between business and IT, and according to Awati, who speaks under the influence of Ciborra, this is not the case:

The messy world, he tells us, gives us the raw materials from which we build simplified representations of the organization we work in. These representations are often built in the image of models that we have learnt or read about (or have been spoon-fed to us by our expensive consultants). Unfortunately, these models are abstractions of reality – they cannot and must not be confused with the real thing.  So when we speak of alignment, we are talking of an abstraction that is not “out there in the world” but instead only resides in our heads; in textbooks and journal papers; and, of course, in business school curricula.

Awati ultimately says that it is fine to strive for strategic alignment, but only under the condition that we realize that alignment is merely a byproduct of other actions and not in itself an achievable goal. The various aspects of business must operate organically, and alignment will only ever result from the departments making good choices together.
But what do you think? Is Awati himself guilty of intellectualizing too much and regurgitating old ideas? Is there a real, tangible merit to strategic alignment that he does not see?

About John Friscia

John Friscia is the Editor of Computer Aid's Accelerating IT Success. He began working for Computer Aid, Inc. in 2013 and continues to provide graphic design support for AITS. He graduated summa cum laude from Shippensburg University with a B.A. in English.

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