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In this post I will introduce the IT Engagement Model, developed by Nils O. Fonstad of CISR, MIT. In previous posts I already showed the importance of alignment on and between different layers in an organisation. In a study of the Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) this issue is adressed as well. Fonstad (2006) states that IT departments always struggle with the eternal dilemma how to achieve company-wide strategies while simultaneously responding to urgent requests from business units to implement dozens or even hundreds of solutions for local projects. Two different streams of research have attempted to adress this challenge.

Research on IT Governance has taken a top-down approach and specified how management allocate decisions. The other stream of research, with a more bottom-up approach, focuses on how projects can be coordinated and managed.  According to the CISR study, neither of these approaches is sufficient. Succesful approaches adress two fundamental goals – alignment between IT and the rest of the business and coordination across multiple organizational levels. In earlier post I mentioned horizontal and vertical alignment, to adress these different dimensions.

An IT engagement model has been introduced, which is defined as the system of governance mechanisms that brings together key stakeholders to ensure that projects achieve both local and company-wide objectives. This engagement model consists of three general components.

  • Company-wide IT Governance – decision rights and accountability of comapny level and business unit level stakeholders to define company-wide objectives and encourage desirable behaviour in the use of IT
  • Projectmanagement – a formalized project management process, with clear deliverables and regular well-defined checkpoints, that encourages disciplined, predicatable behaviour for project teams.
  • Linking mechanisms – processes and decision-making bodies that connect project-level activities to the overall IT governance.

The first two are well recognized. What CISR has found to be the ‘missing link’ is the third element: Linking Mechanisms. Linking mechanisms are at the heart of a company’s IT engagement model. They enable ideas to flow back and forth between company-wide IT governance and project management. Linking mechanisms ensure that high-level governance decisions are understood and implemented by project teams, so that projects help to incrementally achieve the company’s objectives and the company learns from every project.

An effective IT engagement model enables traditionally independent stakeholders to negotiate between competing demands, influence one another, learn from each other, develop trust across the company, and work collectively on achieving local and company-wide objectives. It ensures that project solutions are not developed by any single stakeholder, but rather, result from multiple stakeholders working together to resolve competing interests (e.g. tactical versus strategic, local versus enterprise-wide, new versus reuse).

All three components of the IT engagement model are important sources of mechanisms. Engagement mechanisms take the form of roles, procedures, decision-making bodies and work-groups.

Engagement Mechanisms:

Linking mechanisms can be found in three categories: business linkage, architecture linkage,  and alignment linkage. Business linkage mechanisms link projects to company- and business-level strategies. Architecture linkage mechanisms link projects to enterprise and business unit architectures. Alignment linkage mechanisms link IT with the rest of the business, particularly at the business unit level. There are all kind of mechanisms possible. In the enclosed figures, some of the most prominent are shown.

CISR found out that firms with a stronger level of alignment distinguished themselves by engaging IT and non-IT stakeholders in three areas:

  1. Establishing and maintaining a daily level of conversation between IT and non-IT peers
  2. Ensuring that different projects link to corporate goals and shared resources, and
  3. Asessing and learning from project performance.

These firms had a key mechanism in each of these three areas. These were:

  1. Business-IT relationship managers:  A business-IT relationship manager is a formal role in which an individual engages with IT and a specified part of the business.
  2. Program Management Office: this typically consist of a central group that coordinates resources across projects, ensuring they collectively contribute to corporate level objectives.
  3. Post-implementation Reviews: PIRs typically consist of a group that essesses a project’s key targets and deliverables at the conclusion of a project or project cycle.

In following posts, I will dive deeper in the topic of IT engagement in relation to Alignment.



Fonstad, Nils, and Robertson, David: Engaging for Change: An Overview of the IT Engagement Model, CISR Research Briefing, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), March 2005.

Fonstad, Nils, and Robertson, David: Transforming a company, Project by Project: The IT Engagement Model, CISR Working Paper 363, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), September 2006.

Fonstad, Nils Olaya: Engaging Matters: Enhancing Alignment with Governance Mechanisms, CISR Research Briefing, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), December 2006.

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  1. rohini mehta says:

    This is fabulous

  2. […] I also found an IT Engagement Model from our friends at the Center for Information Systems Research: […]

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