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Closing the gap between digital strategy and execution

What accounts for the gap between strategy and execution at companies tackling large transformation projects? According to Cathy Horst Forsyth, founder and managing partner at Strongbow Consulting Group, inertia is certainly a given at big companies. But she finds that one of the biggest roadblocks to infrastructure transformation is the misalignment of an enterprise's "cross-organizational teams" such as sourcing, legal, compliance and security.

Horst Forsyth was among a panel at the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium that discussed the reasons why things break down between setting a seemingly successful digital strategy and the execution of it. Here, in this SearchCIO video, Horst Forsyth details steps for narrowing the gap between strategy and execution. For starters, she said there needs to be a clear, shared business objective for cross-organizational teams, and the teams need to be held accountable for delivering on this objective.

Editor's note: This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

How do you close the gap between strategy and execution?

When there's not alignment across organization, there's a lot of finger-pointing and inertia that keeps companies staying the way they are and prevents change.
Cathy Horst Forsythfounder, Strongbow Consulting Group

Cathy Horst Forsyth: There are many different things that get in the way of strategy and execution. Large companies are really large because they've grown that way through acquisition; they have specialized teams who focus on doing things well. But driving cross-organizational change really flies in the face of that structure. So, one of the key challenges we see for infrastructure transformation is aligning cross-organizational teams -- engineering, architecture, program management, legal, sourcing, compliance, security, etc. All of these organizations [have to] come together for a common purpose. That's one of the challenges. When companies are successful in bringing this group together with a common purpose, then it works very well. But when there's not alignment across the organizations, there's a lot of finger-pointing and inertia that keeps companies staying the way they are and prevents change.

Some of the things that companies can do in order to help close that gap between strategy and execution: one is, as I said, to really bring together a common purpose for the program, united under a key executive's sponsorship. Very often in our world, that's a CIO or a CTO. The second thing is to have a very clear goal with specific economic value, whether it's reduced errors, increased speed to market, enhanced customer satisfaction or reduced operating costs. All of these metrics can be brought down to dollars and cents. And when we can hold a change program accountable for that economic value and we structure the execution plan for that program well, the executive sponsor -- the CIO or the CTO -- can really hold that team accountable for delivery.

Very often without that structure, it's too easy for individual organizations to stall. As I mentioned, the power of inertia is very strong within large enterprises. So, really holding the teams accountable for that economic value through a very tight governance and stewardship program is another key to success. And then lastly, I might add that things will go wrong in programs of this size. There will be unknowns. There will be shifts. Everything that the team can do to look proactively at the risks and identify potential contingency plans, or at least educate the executive team on what some of those risks and challenges might be, can really help to avoid project abandonment and missing the objectives by too much.

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