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Opinion: It is Time for a New Paradigm Shift in Business-IT Alignment

| by Jean-Jacques Dubray Follow 3 Followers on Feb 24, 2009. Estimated reading time: 3 minutes |

In his latest post Fred Cummins, an EDS Fellow and author of the book Building the Agile Enterprise with SOA, BPM and MBM, argues that it is time for a paradigm shift in our quest for Business-IT alignment. He quotes:

Brian Dooley in his 2008 Cutter Consortium article entitled "Business-IT Alignment (Again)" [...] sees this as a problem of processes and communications [and] questions whether the term "alignment" is still relevant.

In "Business/IT Alignment ‘Is Dead'-What's Next?" Bob Evans proposes that IT cannot bring significant business and customer value without a new approach, because "Alignment Is Dead".

Peter Hinssen [asserts] in Business/IT Fusion: How to Move Beyond Alignment and Transform IT in Your Organization, [...] that it is time to rethink IT [and suggests] what is needed is a fusion of business and IT-a "blending of IT with the business to focus on technology-enabled innovation".

Tom Lodahl and Kay Redditt in their article, "Business/IT Alignment Redux", claim that the change should be a diffusion in which IT people are scattered throughout the business organization and blend into the organizations they support.

While he agrees that:

it is time for a paradigm shift and [while] alignment does not capture the essence of the needed change, [...] neither do processes, fusion nor diffusion.

He sees that:

The fundamental problem is that business and IT people have different perspectives, and the enterprise needs a balance between business and IT perspectives. Art Jahnke, in his 2004 article entitled, "Sound Off - Why is Business-IT Alignment So Difficult?", sees business executives making IT decisions with little knowledge of IT, while their IT organizations are technology-driven and don't understand the needs of the business. This difference of perspective cannot be resolved with a discipline or formal negotiation, it requires collaboration.

Fred argues that:

Agile development methods are an attempt to re-introduce flexibility and collaboration, but agile methods do not scale to large projects-they work for small, multidisciplinary teams.

The needed paradigm shift should be based on Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). As an approach to design of the business, SOA provides a basis for new relationships between business and IT. These relationships support collaboration in a number of well-defined contexts, so small teams of business and IT people can collaborate to address specific needs of the business.

Fred defines a services as:

A service unit is an organizational unit that manages a distinct capability (potentially people, resources, facilities, applications and intellectual capital), and applies that capability in the form of services that meet the needs of external customers or other units within the enterprise. The requirements-the scope and interface-of each service unit are defined such that the service unit is a relatively stable enterprise component that can be engaged to apply its capability in multiple contexts, typically to meet the needs of different lines of business.

He argues that along the lines of Services:

IT architects [can] collaborate with the business architects to design the structure of the business with an understanding of how information technology can be exploited to optimize the enterprise design. Together, they can assess the potential business value of the application of new technology to individual service units, and they can provide input to management decisions regarding technology investments.

In addition, he sees that IT is also responsible for:

  • Managing technical resources to optimize the use of information technology for the enterprise as a whole. IT is responsible for optimization of the shared technical infrastructure.
  • Supporting enterprise intelligence-making information accessible regarding the enterprise and it's ecosystem. This involves the capture, integration and aggregation of data from various sources to provide a timely and consistent view of the state of the enterprise as well as relevant events and trends.

He concludes that:

The SOA paradigm shift enables IT to take responsibility for optimization of technical resources at an enterprise level, while it enables localized innovation and collaboration in the implementation and automation of service units.

Did your SOA initiative support enhanced collaboration between the business and your IT organization? How was your SOA Governance organization involved in enabling this collaboration?

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Maybe the problem is not the Alignment strategy... by Amr Elssamadisy

First of all a disclaimer, I am by no ways a SOA expert, but I am a software practitioner and worked with many clients where SOA is a part of the mix.

That said, I recently read an article "The Alignment Trap" (fall issue of the MIT Sloan Management review) after reading Requirements Come Second on the Agile Journal.

Simplified it says that when we try to become aligned BEFORE we are a technically well-oiled machine then things crash. Statistically speaking 76% of all organizations are in maintenance (neither well-oiled nor aligned). Once at well-oiled, which is a benefit in itself, then you can go towards alignment. So, could it be we don't need a new way to look at alignment, but to focus on being a well-oiled machine first?

Oh, and by the way, most of us aren't as well-oiled as we think. We suffer from second order ignorance, where we don't even know that we don't know :)

Re: Maybe the problem is not the Alignment strategy... by Jean-Jacques Dubray

Amr:

your point is well taken and I would be curious to know the statistics of how successful companies are when they have greatly standardized their technology environment and streamlined their delivery and operatoins processes.

The question remains though, even if you have a "well-oiled" IT environment is Service Orientation (or Resource Orientation or Event Orientation) going to help bring the business and IT together or is it independent of the programming model that you use? Is it more dependent of the type of role that you use to bridge the two, instead of pairing roles to achieve the alignment? You also have to discuss long term vs short term alignment.

With new technologies cloud computing, smart phones, search, social media... you also give the business new opportunities to innovate. How do you achieve this kind of reverse alignment?

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