Posts Tagged ‘negenvlaksmodel’

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…)


The next model, I like to introduce is the Amsterdam Information Model (AIM), also known as the so-called 9-cells-framework (in dutch: negenvlaksmodel). This model was developed by Maes, Truijens and Abcouwer. They extended the original SAM model with an extra row and an extra column. By splitting the internal domain, in a structural and operational level, they introduced a central role where the design and managing of a company is adressed. The extra column is introduced to split the use of information from the technology side. In later work Maes extended this model to a so-called Unified Framework [Maes et al, 2000]. This is called an attempt to transform the concept of alignment into a practical method, incorporating both management and design components. This model can help in understanding the complex world of business and IT, and more specific, to understand the role of informationmanagement. According to a recent publication of Abcouwer and Goense, this model is often used in a different and wrong way. In a descriptive way, where it’s not meant for. This model enables discussions on the topic of business and IT alignment, but it doesn’t provide information on how organisations can actually improve the way they cooperate.


Abcouwer, A.W., Maes, R., Truijens, J.: Contouren van een generiek model voor informatiemanagement, Primavera Working Paper 97-07, 1997.

Abcouwer, A.W., Gels, H., Truijens, J.: Informatiemanagement en Informatiebeleid, SDU, 2006.

Maes, R.: A Generic Framework for Information Management, PrimaVera Working Paper 99-02, 1999.

Maes, Rik, Rijsenbrij, Daan, Truijens, Otto, Goedvolk, Hans: Redefining business-IT alignment through a unified framework, PrimaVera Working Paper 200-19, 2000.