Posts Tagged ‘Alignment’

Found an interesting article, which I like to publish integrally, because it illustrates some of my ideas as well!

Is Business-IT alignment just a state-of-mind?

Have you ever heard of Business-HR alignment or Business-Finance alignment? Probably not. So why is so much attention paid to Business-IT alignment? This question was raised by an UCPartners Academy participant early December 2011 and stayed on our mind long enough to see the New Year. Information becomes a strategic asset so harmonizing business and IT functions is important. Business-IT alignment often seems a struggle for energy companies and needs a lot of effort and dedicated initiatives. Or can Business-IT alignment ‘just’ be a state-of-mind, where problems can be solved by a mental change that requires little effort?

Information is a strategic asset

Business-IT alignment refers to applying Information Technology (IT) in an appropriate and timely way, in harmony with business strategies, goals and needs and its external environment [1]. For energy- and utility companies managing information is just as important as managing utility infrastructures and electricity, gas, heat and cold commodities. Competitive and innovative use of IT can transform business strategy and helps enterprises to be successful in the upcoming ‘energy transition‘ era. In other words: Business-IT alignment is important because information is more and more becoming a strategic asset.

Business-IT alignment is difficult

We recently heard several utility staff say that ‘all IT KPI’s are green but the business is not happy’. Technically the IT function delivers what it should deliver: the IT infrastructure and business applications are reliable and incidents are dealt within the agreed time frames. But IT KPI’s are not always linked to business KPI’s: Server uptime for instance is not the same as Allocation process uptime. This is just one of the many cases we encounter where IT is not aligned with business and business is not in alignment with IT. Other cases have to do with rigidity of protocols, poor prioritization processes, unfit organization structures, unclear IT leadership and lack of business sponsorship at IT changes. These cases are symptoms of a situation where investments in IT remain significantly unleveraged.

The need for Business-IT alignment initiatives

Luckily there are many signals of improvement in our industry and IT is no longer perceived as a cost of doing business. But as the KPI example above demonstrates the state-of-mind still leads to an emphasis on control versus trust. Control is a low-level Business-IT maturity characteristic and does not stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship. In the KPI example a relationship based on trust would lead to a limited set of Key Goal Indicators (KGI’s) instead of multiple technical IT (and business) KPI’s. Key Goal Indicators are the result of a Business- IT vision and shared risks and rewards. Solving a whole range of issues similar to the KPI example calls for a planned and focused approach: Business-IT alignment programs.

A state-of-mind

So Business-IT alignment is important and difficult. But does improving alignment always need a lot of effort and program-like initiatives? A well known management coach [2] once showed us that to say ‘I am going to…’ in fact emphasizes the fact that ‘you are not…’. You smoke or you don’t smoke. To stop smoking is a decision you make here and now, a state-of-mind and not a plan for the New Year that suddenly becomes reality on January the first. To say that you will be a business focused IT department emphasizes the fact that you are not. You either are business focused or you are not, or perhaps trying hard to be so. You are an energy company colleague specialized in IT or an IT employee that happens to work at an energy company. Small change, big difference! Could that be why one never hears about Business- HR alignment or Business-Finance alignment? Because HR=Business and Finance=Business?

Why a ‘simple’ mental change is difficult

Last year we worked together with utility (IT) employees that said they would like to meet with business colleagues more often but had no project numbers for these non-productive hours to write on. This example shows how a welcome mind-set can still be hindered by existing structures. It also shows the toughness of a culture that does not stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship: how can joint Business and IT meetings ever be seen as non-productive? Research [3] in this area shows that the skills component of Business-IT alignment has the lowest maturity level score: innovation, entrepreneurship, change readiness, career crossover etc. Hence we conclude that Business-IT alignment has a lot to do with a state-of-mind but changing this state-of-mind is difficult!

Final verdict

Is Business-IT alignment a state-of-mind that ‘just’ requires a mental change or do we still need to work vision, KPI’s, organization structures? Business-IT alignment is important and difficult. Initiatives that deal with vision, KPI’s and structures alone are not sufficient when the people that work in these structures don’t change. Changing a state-of-mind alone is not enough either; hindering structures must be replaced by facilitating ones. A successful Business-IT alignment transformation needs a focused effort of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ aspects combined.

By naming this topic Business-IT alignment we might have created boundaries that do essentially not exist. So we end this column with a new challenge; to find a better name! Fortunately the title for the next column is already available: Key Goal Indicators green, everybody happy!

Rinke van de Rhee

Source: http://www.ucpartners.eu/user_files/file/ucpartners_column_business_it_alignment_en_feb_2012.pdf

The fourth dimension of the Strategic Alignment Maturity Model of Luftman (2000) is partnership. Partnership between business and IT should evolve to a point where IT both enables and drives changes to both business processes as strategies. Six attributes are defined by Luftman.

First, how business perceives the value of IT. Is it seen as just a cost of doing business, or is IT perceived as an important partner. Second, does IT play a role in the strategic business planning process or not. If the do, apparantly this improves the relation and the level of alignment.

The third attribute is about the way goals, risks and rewards are shared or not.  The more shared they are, the more mature the partnership will be.

The next attribute asks to what extend there are formal processes in place that focus on enhancing the partnership relations. Programmanagement is seen as a suitable mechanisms to manage these relationships in a formal way.

The fifth attribute is about the level of trust between business and IT. And finally, the last attribute is about the level of sponsors and champions within the company. Are they only present at lower levels, or even at C-level.

The domain of partnership is highly connected to the way both parties perceive and trust each other.

Reference

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

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.

There are numerous articles, studies and models to be found on the topic Business/IT-alignment. This makes it hard to define which model is most adequate to use. But some models are apparently much more accepted than others, although there seems to be no consensus on the best one. The basis of many models seems to be the Strategic Alignment Model (SAM) of Henderson and Venkatraman [Henderson and Venkatraman, 1999]. This model suggests that IT-business alignment can be achieved by building linkages among four strategic domains:

The dimension of strategic fit differentiates between external focus, directed towards the business environment, and internal focus, directed towards administrative structures. The other dimension of functional integration separates business and IT. According to the authors, Strategic Alignment can only occur, when three of the four domains are in alignment.

According to Leonard [Leonard, 2008] the SAM-model merely describes what needs to be aligned. In the same study, Leonard points out that there has been far less consensus regarding how alignment is to be achieved. The model which is seen by Leonard as the model which gives insight in the processs by which alignment can be improved is the model of Luftman. This is more about the question how alignment is achieved. The theory of Luftman is found in many articles as a framework for assessing Alignment within a company, and looks very useful.

Luftman developed a maturity assessment model, based on the 12 elements of Business/IT-Alignment, which can be recognized in the model of Henderson and Venkatraman. The components of this model, in concert with the earlier enables/inhibitors research [Luftman and Brier, 1999], form the building blocks for the strategic alignment maturity assessment method [Luftman, 2000].

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.

The areas are:

Communications

How well does the technical and business staff understand each other? Do they connect easily and frequently? Does the company communicate effectively with consultants, vendors and partners? Does it disseminate organizational learning internally?

Competency/Value Measurement

How well does the company measure its own performance and the value of its projects? After projects are completed, do they evaluate what went right and what went wrong? Do they improve the internal processes so that the next project will be better?

Governance

Do the projects that are undertaken flow from an understanding of the business strategy? Do they support that strategy?

Partnership

To what extend have business and IT departments forged true partnerships based on mutual trust and sharing risks and rewards?

Scope & Architecture

To what extend has technology evolved to become more than just business support? How has it helped the business to grow, compete and profit?

Skills

Does the staff have the skills needed to be effective? How well does the technical staff understand business drivers and speak the language of the business? How well does the business staff understand relevant technology concepts?

In my experience, the assessment-method of Luftman really provides enterprises and organisations with a tool which gives insights in the business/it-relationship. It is very useful in defining improvement areas, and even more important, it facilitates an open discussion with executives from business and IT. What it doesn’t, is providing guidelines how to improve the alignment between business and IT. But, the six dimensions cover, in my experience, quite nice on which elements attention should be given. Not at one specific, but all dimensions should be in harmony. I will come back to these dimensions in following posts.

References

Henderson, J.C. and Venkatraman, N.:Strategic Alignment: Leveraging Information Technology for Transforming Organizations, IBM Systems Journal, 1999

Leonard, Jenny: What are we aligning? Implications of a Dynamic Approach to Alignment, 19th Australian Conference on Information Systems, Christchurch, 2008

Luftman, Jerry and Brier, Tom: Achieving and Sustaining Business-IT Alignment, Calirfornia Management Review, Fal 1999

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

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

The Strategic Alignment Model (SAM) of Henderson and Venkatraman [1999] is widely used as the base of Business/IT Alignment theories. The key message of this model, as well as that of many other studies, is that to become a successfull company, one should make sure that the IT strategy is fully aligned with business strategy.

Figure: Strategic Alignment Model [Henderson and Venkatraman, 1999]

The Strategic Alignment Model is composed of four quadrants that consist of three components each. All of the components working together determine the extent of alignment. At least as important are the linkages between the quadrants. The first linkage is that of strategic fit. This is the vertical linkage and refers to the use of strategy to determine the infrastructure of the business. The second linkage is functional integration. This (horizontal) linkage is most directly related to the alignment of business and IT.

Based on this model different perspectives are mentioned, which are shown in the next figure. These perspectives are constructed in a type of triangular format, and can be used to assess the alignment within a company.

Figure: Eight Strategic Alignment Perspectives [Coleman and Papp, 2006]

In addition to these eight perspectives, there are also four fusion perspectives described, that are formed from the combination of two of the individual perspectives. [Luftman, 1996; Coleman and Papp, 2006].

Figure: Fusion Perspectives

Although these different perspectives can be used to gain insights in the way the business and IT are aligned, they provide little guidance on the question how companies can achieve good alignment.

References

Coleman, Preston and Papp, Raymond: Strategic Alignment: Analysis of Perspectives, Proceedings of the 2006 Southern Association for Information Systems Conference, 2006.

Henderson, J.C. and Venkatraman, N.: Strategic Alignment: Leveraging Information Technology for Transforming Organizations, IBM Systems Journal, 1999

In my daily work and in a recent study, I have a lot to do with aligning Business and IT. This resulted in an extensive study into this topic. There are numerous articles, books and websites on alignment. Still, this tends to stay a problem all over the world. Why is that? What can we do about it? I’ve started this blog, to share my views and views of others which I find on my search for the answers.