Archive for the ‘Operational Alignment’ Category

Organizations are dynamic systems, in which all parts should be aligned to get results. Tosti and Jackson [2003] of iChangeworld Consulting wrote an interesting whitepaper on Organizational Alignment. They introduced a framework which, in my opinion, illustrates an important view on alignment.

Figure: Organizational Alignment (Tosti and Jackson, 2003)

This model describes two interdependent paths for moving from a broad statement of organizational mission and vision to specific results:

Strategic: The left-hand path emphazises what needs to be done: the strategic goals the organization will work toward; the objectives that groups and individuals must accomplish to carry out those strategies; the activities that must be performed to meet goals and objectives.
Cultural: The right-hand path emphazises how things should be done: the values that will guide people in carrying out the mission and vision; the practices which reflect those values; the specific, day-to-day behaviors which will represent the values and practices to others as people go about their work.

Organizational alignment requires compatibility between the strategic and cultural “paths”, and consistency within them. Organizations have traditionally emphazised the strategic path. Most invest considerable effort in defining strategic goals and objectives. Fewer adress the cultural path with clearly defined statements of values (Tosti and Jackson, 2003).

In Business/IT Alignment literature alignment is divided in an intellectual dimension and a social dimension. One could easily see the analogy with the strategic and cultural dimension of Tosti and Jackson. Where in Business/IT Alignment, these two dimensions are often looked at in isolation, it’s better to follow the advice of Tosti and Jackson to consider both dimensions as interdependant.

Reference

Tosti, Donald T.; and Jackson, Stephanie F.: Organizational Alignment, iChangeWorld Consulting LLC, Novato, USA, 2001-2003

Advertisements

I’ve adressed many models and theories regarding Business/IT Alignment. I have read lots of literature on this topic, and still, as a practitioner I did not find a single one which helped me out in daily practice. For me enough reason to see if I can reconstruct a framework which gives some practical guidance. I do not have the intention to add a new alignment model, but like to combine what I’ve seen.

Many models simplify reality. This can be useful, but oversimplified models loose their practical use. Still, I’m convinced that we can look at the real world using the proper models or frameworks. I’m not the only one who tries to bring the different views together. I have found a thesis of Vargaz Chevez (2010), who constructed the Unified Strategic Alignment Model. The following figure is from his work. Hardly readable, but it consists of many elements of the different existing theories. I regret to say, but this doesn’t help very much in (at least my) daily practice.

Figure 1 Unified Strategic Alignment Model

More usefull, is the so-called 9-cells model (Maes, 1999; Maes et al, 2000; Bon and Hoving, 2007). It offers an interesting view on the domain we’re looking at. The models divide three colomns representing business, information and technology. The three rows are in the two models a little different, but essentially they introduce an intermediairy row between the strategic and operational level.

Figure 2 Nine-Cells Model

This model can be used to  understand where we are looking at. Talking about alignment, one should try to bring all these nine cells in alignment. Many definitions see this as a static situation, where often only the strategic level is considered. But, strategies are worthless untill they are adopted by the tactical and operational level. The tactical level needs to define which projects are needed to really execute the strategy. And on an operational level, the projects need to be implemented and included in daily operations. The tactical level translates goals and preconditions of the strategic domain into concrete, realizable objectives, responsibilities, authorizations, frameworks, and guidelines for the operational domain [Bon and Hoving, 2007].

So, even if on a strategic level, business and IT appear to be aligned, this doesn’t guarentee that it will lead to success. In fact, one should be concentrating on the way the different cells are connected. And here lies the complexity of Business/IT Alignment. To make it even more realistic, we should add more cells. Most larger enterprises are organized in different units. This can be functional or divisional. This will lead to additional 9-cells connected. In the following figure, I have constructed this 3 x 3 x 3 cube, which I call the Generic Alignment Framework©.

Figure 3 Generic Alignment Framework©

This Generic Alignment Framework© is called generic, because this isn’t only applicable for Business/IT Alignment. One could replace bu 1, bu 2 and bu 3 with Sales, Marketing and Operations. Or even, put these functional departments in the place of business, information and technology. The matrix could even be larger or smaller than 3x3x3, depending on the specific organisation. Larger organisations do exist of different units which depend more or less on each other. This also depend on the operating model an organisation chooses to have [Ross, Weill and Robertson, 2006]. But, why should Business and IT be different from other entities? If this isn’t the case, we certainly could learn more on alignment by looking at alignment topics in other areas. And if the Business and IT relationship really indeed is different from the rest, how can we make these differences more explicit?

Using the framework

This framework has value in understanding the complexity of the domain of alignment. Which elements have to be taken into account when a company is looking for alignment. This model also shows the difference between the elements (whether departments or roles) and the linkages.

Many models and definitions adress the state of alignment an organisation has achieved. In fact, they take a picture of the organisation and measure if the elements are aligned at that very moment. Which, in a complex organisation, like illustrated in the framework, is a huge challenge. Anyhow, to achieve alignment, communication between the elements is required, which means that all information should pass all these linkages without any bias. That’s the process of alignment.

The most widespread theories on alignment approach this topic from a strategic point of view.  That in itself isn’t wrong, but they also restrict their theory to the strategic level. That’s wrong. Because an important problem area is excluded (or taken for granted), which is related to a proper translation of strategy into action, through the tactical level onto the operational level.

To be continued (also on page Howe To…)

Most research on alignment between business and IT has attempted to reduce its complexity to allow investigation of simple, direct cause and effect relationships. Still, alignment remains a top-concern. Maybe the way we look at it, isn’t the right way. Concentrating on one aspect of alignment at the expense of other dimensions is an option to reduce complexity. Complexity can be reduced further, by adopting the assumption that strategies are developed in a formal planning process and implemented as intended. However, this is rarely true in daily practice. Therefore, definitions of alignment are concerned with an idealised future that cannot accomodate any deviation. Secondly, these definitions are only concerned with what happens at an executive level and totally ignore events at an operational level.

Co-evolutionary theory provides a promising alternative, ambracing complexity, and capturing the messy nature of alignment in practice. I’ve introduced this vision already in the previous post. Campbell and Peppard developed a model based on co-evolutionary theory and complexity theory. See the enclosed figure. This blog isn’t suited to explain this model, but if you want to read more, read the paper on  http://www.som.cranfield.ac.uk/som/dinamic-content/media/ISRC/Coevolution%20of%20Strategic%20Alignment.pdf.

Some points are interesting though, which I would like to share. The core concern of IS managers in their study was the difference between espoused business strategies and those they could see implemented by their managerial peers in the business. IS manager at an operational level tend to support the actions of their business peers, not the strategies contained within the plans, which are normally difficult to understand and implement at an opearational level. Many participants in the research indicated that it is the relationship and collaboration that provides alignment, not strategic plans.

The data from this study indicated that both business and IS managers within an organisation ‘learn’ to communicate, trust each other, develop a shared system of meaning and shared domain knowledge and then to collaborate. That is, their capabilities co-evolve. The opposite is just as possible. They may make an unconscious decision not to collaborate. In either case the deviance amplification behaviour of positive feedback loops within the alignment system reinforce the situation.

Another intersting point is that there is a difference between trust between two people and trust between groups of people that is rarely explored in the literature. They found that there is a direct relationship between inter-organisational trust and performance. If intergroup trust exists then it is more likely that business and IS groups will collaborate to discover new ways in which existing technology can be used. They will tend to solve mutual problems rather than remain remote from each other. At the same time the trust will mitigate the effects of an occasional poor project performance. Trust between individuals had little direct impact on performance. It appears that individual trust is important during the development of group trust but does not have a direct impact on performance.

An interesting finding related to this, found in another study (Campbell, Kay and Avison, 2005), was that some of the organizations which have been studied had a culture that did not encourage communication or collaboration between the business and IS functions, nor between the business units themselves. In fact the organizational cultures encouraged competition and conflict between departments and personnel rather than collaboration. The lack of communication means that the development of trust is severely impeded. This, then, affects the development of shared domain knowledge which, in turn, affects long term strategic alignment.

It is now clear that both IS and business managers must develop a shared system of meaning, shared domain knowledge and then apply these skills as they collaborate to resolve common problems and issues. And not only on a strategic level, but maybe mroe important, also on a tactical and operational level.

Reference

Capmbell, Dr. Bruce, and Peppard, Prof Joe: The Co-Evolution of Business/Information Systems Strategic Alignment: An Exploratory Study.

Campbell, Bruce, Kay, Robert, and Avison, David: Strategic Alignment: A Practitioner’s Perspective, International Journal of Enterpise Management, Vol 18, No 6, 2005. http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/research/bitstream/handle/10453/5762/2005003284.pdf?sequence=1

Bumblebees and the flowers they pollinate have...

Image via Wikipedia

In previous posts, I have already mentioned the different definitions on Business/IT-Alignment. The definition that’s most attracting to me, is the one of Benbya and McKelvey (2006):

“A continuous co-evolutionary process that reconciles top-down ‘rational designs’ and bottom-up ‘emergent processes’ of consciously and coherently interrelating all components of the Business/IS relationship at three levels of analysis (strategic, operational and individual) in order to contribute to an organization’s performance over time.”

This definition diverges from other definitions in a number of ways:

  • Alignment is a continuous process, involving continuous adjustment, rather than an event with an end point after which an organization can return to a state of equilibrium.
  • All the components of the Business infrastructure/IS relationship are taken into account; alignment is not confined to the strategic level.
  • Alignment should not be restricted to managerial processes, but includes design processes as well; while executive management is not able to determine every single aspect of the Business/IS relationship.
  • It is not necessary to strive ‘by definition’ for harmony or balance between the different elements of the Business/IS relationship, since consciously introduced and/or sustained lack of balance is the motor of many organizational innovations.

Benbya and McKelvey came up with their model, due to the fact that most existing literature is based on assumptions which hardly are found in practice. Many theories assume a structured strategy process and stable organisations and IT. IS plans are subject to change as the approval of a proposed investment is only the starting point for a continually widening gap between stated objectives and the realities of today’s changing environment. Unforeseen happenings, failing promises and human errors cannot be included even in the best-laid plans. Defining detailed strategic plans to integrate IS and business strategy (the strategic level) is important but not enough for alignment to be achieved. IS and business strategy should coevolve mutually to respond to changes in the business environment.

Their framework suggests the coevolution of IS with the organization at three levels:

Strategic Level – coevolving IS and business strategies

This cannot be achieved just by relying on top-down planning with little emphasis on the emergent nature and necessity of bottomup planning for alignment.

Operational Level – coevolving IS and Business departments

Business managers and IS planners are unable to express themselves in common language. In short, they do not understand each other’s complexities. Therefore, tightly aligned business and IS domains need continuous coordination and communication between the two poles of the duality, Business and IS. In order to achieve this, both Business and IS must form effective collaborative partnerships at all levels. Only through continuous adjustments between the two entities – Business and IS – alignment can be sustained.

Individual Level – coevolving IS infrastructure with individual users’ needs

Users do not hold the same view of themselves that IS analysts do, and they do not like to be referred to as users. They do not even think of themselves as primarily having anything to do with the computer at all. They see themselves as professionals, working with others, and using computers in support of these interactions. Within a typical firm, individuals rarely have the opportunity to choose the system they use. As users become competent in using an IS, they often see new ways of doing things and dream up new things to do with the IS. These new ideas change the organization and its perception of what is required from its IS. If these changes cannot be easily incorporated in the IS, the users become frustrated and dissatisfied with the system. The reality is, that to derive its expected benefits and remain aligned with users need, the IS and its users must continually coevolve.

Reference

Benbya, Hind, and McKelvey, Bill: Using coevolutionary and complexity theories to improve IS alignment: a multi-level approach, Journal of Information Technology, No 21, 2006

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

Alignment is expected to improve business performance, by aligning Business and IT Strategy. But, that’s not enough. According to Boar [1994, in Grant, 2003], effective alignment is predicated on the combination of prescient planning and the effective execution of those plans. The execution of a strategy is almost always realized via the tactical and operational levels of an organization. This means, that alignment must be realized, not only horizontally, but also vertically.

One definition on these two types of organizational alignment – vertical and horizontal – is found in [Kathuria et al, 2007]. Vertical alignment refers to the configuration of strategies, objectives, action plans, and decisions throughout the various levels of the organization. Horizontal alignment refers to coordination of efforts across the organization and is primarily relevant to the lower levels in the strategy hierarchy.

Alignment on different organizational levels

While IT-business alignment at the strategic level has been extensively studied (Chan and Reich 2007), there has been little study of how IT and business can align at the tactical level.

Tactical IT-business alignment is necessary for making sure that IT projects are implemented on time and the implemented applications deliver the planned and desired business benefits. Alignment at the operational or tactical level is required for ensuring that planned applications are successfully implemented, maintained and used, that applications and systems irrelevant to the business plan are not implemented, and that implemented IT delivers envisaged business benefits [Tarafdar and Qrunfleh, 2009].

The importance of alignment on a operational level is also adressed by Guldentops in [Grembergen et al, 2004]. He makes a distinction between vertical and horizontal alignment. Vertical alignment is primarily driven by repeatedly communicating an integrated Business and IT strategy down into the organisation, and translating it at each organisational layer into the language, responsibilities, values and challenges at that level. Horizontal alignment is primarily driven by cooperation between Business and IT on integrating the strategy, on developing and agreeing on performance measures and on sharing responsibilities.

Benbya and McKelvey came up with a model which highlights the relevance of analysing the relationship between Business and IT (Horizontal Alignment) but also the need to reconcile the views at different levels of analysis (Vertical Alignment). This model is shown in the enclosed.  Further, they redefine alignment as follows: “Alignment is a continous coevulutionary process that reconciles top-down ‘rational designs’ and bottom-up ‘emergent processes’ of consiously and coherently interrelating all components of Business/IS relationships at three levels of analysis (strategic, operational and individual) in order to contribute to an organisation’s performance over time”. [Benbya and McKelvey, 2006].

 

Coevolutionary IS Alignment [Benbya and McKelvey, 2006]

Gutierrez et al [2008] confirm the need for expanding research to the tactical and operational level. Based on findings from their literature review they state:

  1. Business-IS alignment and assessment approaches are mainly focused on the strategic level
  2. There is a lack of connection between strategies and IT projects implementation.

References

Benbya, Hind, and McKelvey, Bill: Using coevolutionary and complexity theories to improve IS alignment: a multi-level approach, Journal of Information Technology, No 21, 2006

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

Grembergen, Wim van, and Haes, Steven de, and Guldentops, Erik: Structures, Processes and Relational Mechanisms for IT Governance, Idea Group, 2004.

Grant. Gerarld G.: Strategic Alignment and Enterprise Systems Implementation: the case of Metalco, Journal of Information Technology, No 18, September 2003

Gutierrez, Anabel, and Orozco, Jorge, and Mylonadis, Charalampos, and Serrano, Alan: Business-IS alignment: assessment process to align IT projects with business strategy, AMCIS 2008 Proceedings, 2008.

Kathuria, Ravi, and Joshi, Makeshkumar, P., and Porth, Stephen J.: Organizational alignment and performance: past, present and future, Management Decision, Vol. 45 No 3, 2007.

Tarafdar, Monideepa, and Qrunfleh, Sufian: IT-Business Aligment: A Two-Level Analysis, Information Systems Management, No 26, 2009