How to ….

On this page, I will bring together suggestions which should be helpful in achieving good Business/IT Alignment.

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.

It’s very clear that the importance of the intermediate layer, the tactical layer, is huge. On the one hand this intermediate layer translates the goals and preconditions of the strategic domain into concrete realizable objectives, responsibilities, authorizations, frameworks, and guidelines, for the operational domain. On the other hand the intermediate layer facilitates the operational domain to express the (in)capabilities and improvements in the strategic goals. The intermediary layer designs a situation where strategy and operation can be ideally aligned. This is a continual and dynamic activity [Bon and Hoving, 2007].

Organizational Alignment

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 4 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.

One element is missing though. That has to do with the unidirectional approach.

To be continued.

  1. It’s laborious to find knowledgeable people on this matter, however you sound like you already know what you’re speaking about! Thanks

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