Bringing Business and IT Together – Part 2

Published in January 2006

The first article of this series described the need to finally resolve the long-standing divide between business and IT. [Bringing Business and IT Together: A Mandate for Change,] The mandate presented is that we must finally and fully resolve the business/IT conflict: “it is essential that business/IT
working relationships undergo fundamental and systemic change” if the value of business intelligence, performance dashboards, business scorecards, information visualization, decision process
automation and other advanced technologies is to be fully realized.

Almost everyone is familiar with the symptoms – different languages, priorities, processes, interests, etc. – and most of us recognize the problem. Yet knowing the problem is not sufficient.
Recognizing need for change does nothing to effect change. The initial article describes why we need to change. This article continues with discussion of what we can do to change.

The Business/IT problem is fundamentally one of organizational change, but it is more complex than is readily addressed by conventional organization change theory and practice. Complexity arises
from the need to change two kinds of organizations simultaneously and in a synchronized way. This is both a problem of organizational change and one of organizational alignment. Similar to quality
improvement, alignment is a continuous management issue. Thus we need to approach it as an activity of Continuous Organizational Alignment (COA).

A Framework for COA

COA is similar to other continuous improvement processes such as continuous quality improvement (CQI) and continuous process improvement (CPI). Just as CQI and CPI demand structure and metrics, so
too does COA. Continuous improvement is evolutionary and incremental. It is manageable only when understood as a set of interconnected components that can be identified and measured. The COA
Framework illustrated in Figure 1 provides the necessary structure. This three-dimensional structure associates the core elements of COA – those of organizational alignment and working
relationships – with the activities of continuous improvement. The framework identifies the components that can be managed, measured, and modified to improve the overall alignment of business and
technology organizations.

Elements of Organizational Alignment

Organizational alignment describes the degree to which multiple organizations are positioned to work together effectively and achieve high quality results with minimum conflict, confusion,
miscommunication, and political interference. Three elements have profound impact on organizational alignment:

  • Processes are the procedures and activities through which interaction occurs, needs are communicated, products and services are delivered, and payment or chargeback is achieved.
    Important influences include the degree of formality in processes, the level at which they are documented and understood, the extent to which they are followed, results-orientation without undue
    bureaucracy, consistency of application, and much more.
  • Relationships involve both the state and the quality of interaction between organizations. Organizational relationships have a structural component and a cultural component. Structure
    expresses the form or forms of a relationship – contractual, partnership, and collaborative for example. Culture expresses the attitudes and emotions of a relationship – friendly vs. combative,
    trusting vs. distrustful, comfortable vs. awkward, etc.
  • Skills are the abilities to produce solutions in a problem domain. Business skills, technology skills, and interpersonal skills are all important for organizational alignment. It is
    increasingly important that business people have some technical skills and that technical people have some business skills.

Elements of Working Relationships

Working relationships determine the state and quality of interaction between organizations – those relationships described above as an element of organizational alignment. The axis for
organizational alignment examines those relationships collectively. The working relationships axis explores relationships in greater depth. Working relationships exist at several levels including
organization-to-organization, team-to-team, and person-to-person; and they must work effectively at all of these levels to achieve true organizational alignment. Organization-to-organization
relations are ideally structured and business-like. Conversely, person-to-person relationships are best when unstructured and friendly. Team-to-team relationships seek a balance between the two
extremes. Both extremes are needed to achieve robust working relationships. The much desired characteristic of trust, for example, begins at the personal level before it can extend to the team and
organizational levels. Partnership, however, is difficult to realize at the personal level and ideally begins with organizations. Collaboration is a preferred characteristic of team-to-team
relationships and is frequently the bridge between personal and organizational behaviors.

Managing working relationships is clearly a complex and difficult process. Yet it is an essential process because relationships (as illustrated in Figure 2) are at the very core of Business/IT
alignment. Although challenging, managed relationships are both necessary and possible. The critical elements of managed working relationships include:

  • Governance provides the structure and controls needed to achieve value from IT resources, minimize risk of IT initiatives, ensure long-term viability of IT systems, ensure that IT
    systems support regulatory compliance, raise the level of information technology maturity, and satisfy business expectations of IT. Governance addresses ownership, responsibilities, measurement,
    policies, and working practices for data, technology, and information systems. The goal of governance is to align as closely as practical the interests of individuals, teams, organizations, and
    the enterprise.
  • Competency is the ability to produce and deliver results and encompasses both knowledge and ability to apply that knowledge. Effective Business/IT relationships demand competency in
    three domains – business, technology, and program/project management. Although frequently considered to be subjective and intangible, competency is readily affirmed and demonstrated through
    references which may range from internal word-of-mouth impressions and reputation to recognition as a best practices leader. Competency is essential for each of individuals, teams, and
  • Communications are a cornerstone of Business/IT alignment – the connections that enable access, understanding, cooperation, and teamwork. Every aspect of the framework depends in some
    way and to some degree on communication. Skills, for example, are individual and problem domain specific; Competency is collective and results oriented; Moving from skills to competency and from
    problem to results depends largely upon communications.

Continuous Alignment Activities

Continuous alignment is the goal and the challenge – continuous because organizations, people, processes, and technology continuously change. One-time alignment simply will not do.

  • Identify Misalignment – This activity focuses on knowing where alignment problems exist and why they exist. Examine each of nine points identified by the COA framework to seek out
    specific misalignment issues as shown in the table below:
Figure 3: Identifying Misalignment
  • Correct Misalignment – This activity effects change. The only way to improve Business/IT alignment and relationships is to change what we think, say, and do in areas of misalignment.
    Both organizational and personal change is important. Personal change is frequently driven by the messages (communications, actions, and behaviors) that occur organizationally. Inconsistent
    messages – actions differing from communications – will damage the overall effort to improve alignment and working relationships. Organizational change involves multiple organizations and brings
    forth a subtle but important distinction: Do not undertake an effort to “align IT with the business” but an effort to “align business and IT” to best serve the needs of the enterprise.
  • Sustain Alignment – This activity is directed at impact with a goal of achieving real, substantial, and lasting value through alignment of business and technology. Sustainability depends
    on feedback and monitoring to ensure not only that change occurs, but that the desired changes occur. In a climate of continuously changing organizations and technologies the feedback system is
    particularly important. Extending the scope of change to encompass people, processes, and politics raises the stakes. Routine check-ups are necessary to ensure long-term alignment.

The Continuous Organizational Alignment (COA) Process

The activities – identify, correct, and sustain – are not sufficient to begin an alignment program without being placed in a process context. The COA process illustrated in Figure 4 provides the
needed context. This six-step iterative process consists of:

  1. Measuring the degree of Business/IT alignment as a means to understand the gap and to take steps toward better alignment.
  2. Identification of the “trouble spots” that at the core of the misalignment issues. Trouble spots are based on the COA framework and the nine areas of alignment focus shown in Figure 3.
  3. Identifying the root causes of trouble spots. Root causes are the fundamental reasons that a problem exists. Deeper analysis based on the set of questions shown in Figure 3 helps to find root
    causes. In every case of root cause analysis use caution to seek out causes in the spirit of understanding cause and effect, and to avoid any real or perceived pointing of fingers or placing of
  4. Determine the corrective actions needed to resolve problems and remove or remediate the root causes of those problems. Remember that the changes sought are organizational changes, thus the
    corrective actions are more likely to be cultural than technological. Also remember the need to change multiple organizations, and the fact that organizations are made up of people. Carefully
    consider when change needs to occur at the organizational level and when at the personal level.
  5. Take action. In the words of Nike “Just Do It!” Change what we do, what we say, and what we believe in ways that make positive steps to better working relationships and improved Business/IT
  6. Measure the degree of Business/IT alignment to understand the impact of actions taken, to ensure continued alignment in the face of change, and to close the feedback loop in a continuous
    improvement process. This measurement sets the stage to repeat from Step 2: Identify Trouble Spots.

Measuring Business/IT Alignment

As with most complex problems and all continuous improvement processes, COA begins and ends with measurement. Measures provide information that is critical to analyze the gap, identify trouble
spots, determine corrective actions, and know the impact of those actions. A crucial question for COA then is “How can we measure the Business/IT gap?” It will not be easy but it is
certainly possible. That complex topic is the subject for the next article in this series.

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Dave Wells

Dave Wells

Dave Wells leads the Data Management Practice at Eckerson Group, a business intelligence and analytics research and consulting organization. Dave works at the intersection of information management and business management, where real value is derived from data assets. He is an industry analyst, consultant, and educator dedicated to building meaningful and enduring connections throughout the path from data to business value. Knowledge sharing and skills development are Dave’s passions, carried out through consulting, speaking, teaching, and writing. He is a continuous learner – fascinated with understanding how we think – and a student and practitioner of systems thinking, critical thinking, design thinking, divergent thinking, and innovation. He can be reached at

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