Archive for January, 2011

Knowledge Sharing Is...

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One of the six dimensions of the Strategic Alignment Maturity Model of Luftman (2000) is Communication. Communication is part of the social dimension of alignment. This dimension consists of 6 attributes, which all are important to achieve and sustain alignment. Let’s take a closer look at those attributes.

The first one is Understanding of Business by IT. To be effective, IT has to understand the business environment. Knowing about their processes, but almost more important, knowing the business’ customers, the products, competitors and so on. The second attribute is the other way around: Understanding of IT by the Business. Business should be aware of the capabilities of IT, but should also understand what needs to be done to develop and maintain information systems and technology. The better these understanding of business and IT of both worlds, the more mature alignment will be.

The third attribute is Inter/Intra-Organizational Learning. The better an organization is capable of learning (and educating) from opportunities like previous experiences, problems, and challenges, the more mature the alignment is.

Fourth, Protocol Rigidity has to do with the way how business and IT communicate with each other. Is it one-way or two-way? Is it only formal, or also informal? It may be clear that a two-way communication, with formal and informal characteristcs suits alignment best.

Next, Knowledge Sharing is also very important part. As I have introduced in the former post, knowledge sharing is an enabler for alignment. Shared domain knowledge is defined as the ability of IT and business executives, at a deep level, to understand and be able to participate in the others’ key processes and to respect each other’s unique contribution and challenges.

The last attribute in Communication is Liaison Breadth/Effectiveness. According to Luftman, many firms choose to draw on liaisons to facilitate. The key word here is facilitate. Facilitators whose role is to serve as the sole conduit of interaction among the different organizations are often seen. This approach tends to stifle rather than foster effective communications. Rigid protocols that impede discussions and the sharing of ideas should be avoided. I will come back to the role of liasons in a following post.

Reference

Luftman, Jerry: Assessing Business-IT Alignment Maturity, Communications of AIS, Volume 4, Article 14, December 2000

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Jerry N. Luftman, well known for his Strategic Alignment Maturity Model (SAMM), published a new book: Managing the Information Technology Resource. It’s worth the money!

Most common models focus on the strategic dimension of alignment. Chan and Reich (2007) defined several dimensions on alignment. The strategic or intellectual dimension, the structural dimension, the social dimension, and the cultural dimension. A well known study by Reich and Benbasat (2000) defines only two dimensions. The first (intellectual dimension) concentrates on examining the strategies, structure, and planning methodologies in organizations. The second (social dimension) investigates the actors in organizations, examining their values, communications with each other, and ultimately their understanding of each others’ domains.

The intellectual dimension of alignment is defined as “the state in which a high-quality set of interrelated IT and business plans exists.” The social dimension of alignment is defined as “the state in which business and IT executives within an organizational unit understand and are committed to the business and IT mission, objectives, and plans”.

The study included four factors that would potentially influence alignment:

1. Shared domain knowledge between business and IT executives: the better IT and business executives understand and participate in each others’ key processes the better the alignment will be. Shared domain knowledge is defined here as the ability of IT and business executives, at a deep level, to understand and be able to participate in the others’ key processes and to respect each other’s unique contribution and challenges.

2. Successful IT history: the more successful the previous IT implementation the more trust business executives have in IT and the more motivation to communicate with the IT department, which leads to better alignment.

3. Communication between business and IT executives: the communication between business and IT executives can positively affect the level of mutual understanding and alignment.

4. Connections between business and IT planning processes: the more IT executives are involved in business planning the more they can understand and support the business objectives, leading to better alignment.

All four factors in the model (shared domain knowledge, IT implementation success, communication between business and IT executives, and connections between business and IT planning) were found to influence short-term alignment (the degree of mutual understanding of current objectives). Only shared domain knowledge was found to influence long-term alignment (the congruence of IT vision between business and IT executives).

References

Chan, Yolande E and Reich, Blaize Horner: IT Alignment: what have we learned, Journal of Information Technology (2007) 22, 2007

Reich, Blaize Horner and Benbasat, Izak: Factors that influence the social dimension of alignment between business and information technology objectives, MIS Quarterly, Vol.24, No.1. March 2000.

More or less in the same period as in which Maes (et al) developed the Amsterdam Information Model, a comparable model was developed by Van Bon and Hoving (2007), based on earlier work in 1998. They named their model the Strategic Alignment Model Enhanced (SAME). Both models look the same. Maybe, the scientific backgrounds are different, but from a practical point of view they appear similar. What the SAME model introduces is a nice definition of the different layers.

These three different layers (strategic, tactical, operational), combined with the three colomns (business, information, technology) form the SAME model.

Reference

Jan van Bon and Wim Hoving: SAME, Strategic Alignment Model Enhanced, BHVB bv, October 2007

In the past years I’ve executed some assessments on the business/IT alignment maturity of some organizations. I’ve used the assessment method of Luftman, the so-called Strategic Alignment Maturity Model (SAMM).

This model can be used in a survey to see where a company stands regarding maturity and once this maturity is understood, it can provide the organisation with a roadmap that identifies opportunities for enhancing the harmonious relationship of business and IT [Luftman, 2000]. The model consists of 6 alignment areas. Each area has multiple attributes. For each area there are clearly defined maturity levels. All areas should be given attention to mature the alignment between business and IT. With the help of a questionnaire, based on the SAMM elements, people from business and IT valued each question with a score between 1 and 5. These scores correspond with the maturity levels as defined by Luftman. One question per attribute of the model. The outcomes of the survey can be plotted in a graph.

It’s interesting to know where a company stands regarding the maturity level on business/IT alignment. But, that in itself doesn’t help very much. What does help, is using the outcomes to start an open dialogue with and between business and IT representatives. By looking at the outcomes, one can easily point at situations where business and IT disagree, or where the mean score is low. Luftman states that all elements of the model should be more or less on the same level to have good alignment. Such a survey facilitates an open discussion. And, in this dicussion you can find out why people valued certain elements the way they did. And this provides valuable insight into which areas improvements are possible and needed.

In some cases, the questionnaire was send to different levels of the organisation. On strategic, tactical and operational levels. This was useful as well, because this gives insight in differences between these levels.

From a practical perspective, this survey is easy to apply. It’s not the overall maturity score which is important. It’s the insights the individual scores provide. These scores enable the dialogue between business and IT. And, once this dialogue has started, it’s so much easier to start working on improvements.

References

Luftman, Jerry: Assessing Business-IT Alignment Maturity, Communications of AIS, Volume 4, Article 14, December 2000

Luftman, Jerry and Kempaiah, Rajkumar: An Update on Business-IT Alignment: “A Line” Has Been Drawn, MIS Quarterly Executive Vol.6 No. 3, September 2007.

An article written by Andrew L. Miser on alignment in partnerships of couples gives food for thought for using some of these lessons in the enterprise environment. Couples tend to align, and when something in their live is not working well, or is creating misalignment, the partners will work together to resolve the issue to get back in alignment. Isn’t that what we are looking for in the business/IT relation as well? So, why not look further than the domain of business and IT alignment.

The paper identifies five distinct areas where being in alignment can make a big difference. Those five areas include the perspectives the partners share with respect to each other and their relationship, the values they share in their lives together, the vision they have for their relationship, the future they visualize, and the projects and committed action to which they commit to realize heir dreams.

 

Align on perspectives

A perspective or point of view is the particular way of seeing or framing what happens in live. Three perspectives are mentioned which can have a positive impact.

First, adopt and align on the perspective that nothing is inherently wrong with either of the partners or the partnership in itself. With this perspective you can powerful focus on an issue you are dealing with and can avoid assessing weaknesses in yourselves or in the relationship.

Second, adopt the framework that each of you are responsible for your own happiness, but not that of your partner. Although you are not responsible, you can be committed to it.

Third, adopt the perspective that, for your relationship to work, it must work for both of you. A partnership can only be a partnership when it is collaborative and a “win: for both of you and for your relationship.

So, both partners are equally responsible for the partnership!

Align on values

Some couples value mutual understanding, validation, communication, openness, compromise, and friendship. Other couples value the freedom to express different viewpoints, emotional expressiveness, and passion. Still other couples value minimizing conflict, sharing common ground, harmony and autonomy. Couples who co-create and align on their values can be very successful and fulfilled in their relationship over the long-term. When you and your partner are able to articulate and generate the core values in your relationship, you co-create the foundation of your relationship on an on-going basis.

Align on vision

Another area where you and your partner can be in alignment is in articulating a vision for your lives and your relationship. A vision for your partnership conveys what you want to express in the world as the fulfillment of your lives together. It is not just the achievement of life goals or objectives. A vision for your relationship represents what you stand side-by-side for in your family and in your community. A vision could be thought of as a co-created stand for the quality of your relationship and lifestyle.

Align on visualizing the future

A fourth way you and your partner co-create your lives is through inventing a future for your partnership. To create the future, first anchor yourselves in what you value and in the vision you have for your relationship. Then, visualize and share with each other your dreams of your future, irrespective of time. Once you share and experience your possible desired future together, you can choose and align on a timeframe for the manifestation of the future you have both co-created. Committing together to the future you have co-created is essential for expressing your partnership in action. Almost immediately after making this commitment to your future, you will see a host of “partnership projects” needed to fulfill on the future you have envisioned. You will experience an alignment of focus and action when you undertake these partnership projects as an expression of your commitment to make manifest your future.

Align on committed action

Partnership projects are distinct from the normal “routine” of life as they are co-created by the couple to bring their future into existence and co-owned for the duration of the project. Within these projects, you and your partner can cooperate together in planned action and in co-owning your accomplishments, both the intended and the unintended outcomes. You can examine and acknowledge any disempowering perspectives you may have unwittingly adopted along the way as well as identify actions and accomplishments that you still need to take. By co-owning the results of your project(s), you are able to re-create your partnership and stay in action. When co-creating projects and bringing them to fruition, you will find that there are several necessary steps to co-designing a successful partnership project. These include creating the future accomplishment of the partnership project, sharing any current perspectives and concerns that may be limiting the project outcomes, creating and choosing an empowering way of being for the project, defining the actions necessary to fulfill the partnership project and putting them into time. It is also works and is fun to name the project. You will also discover that, throughout the life of your project(s), you must meet periodically so you can evaluate the results of your actions, plan the next steps of their projects and be in alignment on a regular basis.

Conclusion

Although all of the above is writtten around a partnership between two people, much of it could be beneficial for a healthy relationship between business and IT within a company. It all starts with the wish to establish a real good partnership between business and IT. Top level management must believe in this, and try to fill in all of the five areas.

 

Reference

Miser, Andrew L.: The Power of Alignment, Elysian Enterprises, Brookline.

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Last week I found a report which contains some interesting results, and is quite recognizable in my daily practice. It presents the results of a survey under CIOs and CFOs on the effects of the crisis on the way companies manage their IT. The study is done by Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School and Deloitte.

They distilled four main engagement themes which stimulate a more effective kind of engagement:

  1. Bonding at the top
  2. Look for benefits
  3. Serve professionally
  4. Engage respectfully

Bonding at the top

Engagement requires more than one or two visits of the CIO to the companies management team with an overview of next year’s IT budget. What is required, is working side-by-side. The purpose of the engagement remains the same. Setting the right expectations, specifying rules for allocation of resources to fulfill these expectations, and defining a framework to verify the performance. Informal engagement channels are as important as formal channels. As a CIO in the study said: “It would be suicide to go to the executive committee without having worked everything out in advance”, and “We are not making their choices. We guide them (the business) with a roadmap, to have an influence on the order of things, to show interdependencies.” The usage of roadmaps and architecture appeared to be fruitful in discussing scenario’s.

Look for benefits

Especially in a crisis, it’s more accepted that business benefits up-front get challenged. IT can and have to take their role in this. An important mechanism here are ‘post-project reviews’, as we have seen earlier in the work of Fonstad on Engagement mechanisms (see former post).

Serve professionally

To get on speaking terms, IT must perform and deliver. Operational excellence and knowing the ‘cost-to-serve’. This will provide IT with excellent input to start the dialogue with the business and to create engagement. Also important are risks and riskmanagement. “Do not hide risks, make them visible” as one CIO pointed out. Put risks on the radar, before being able to manage them properly. Mitigate risks by avoiding big, long projects. Maximize into six-month (or even better three) projects. Otherwise, you can get trapped, due to unforeseeable challenges.

Engage respectfully

What is needed, is a culture in which business and IT allow eachother to intervene. Talk about execution implications of strategic options. And, this is needed throughout the organisation, not only at C-level. Liaison-roles are mentioned as very important (which was also one of Fonstad’s conclusions). This can take the form of business-analysts or IT account managers, but more important, social skills are required. In places where strategy and operations as well as business and IT meet, people should operate who are able to “sit with their peers and show the ability to listen, learn and influence”.

Two other fundamental trends are also pointed out in the survey. Business IT Fusion is seen as upcoming. The second trend is the fact that IT users are becoming more and more IT savvy. As a result, they expect more and more control on how their money us spend. This puts an extra challenge on IT to perform and deliver, and to approach users in an appropiate way.

 

References

Viaene, Stijn, Jolyon, Olivier, Hertogh, Steven de: Engaging in turbulent times; Direction setting for business and IT alignment, Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School and Deloitte Belgium, October 2009.