Discoveries in Business & IT Alignment masterclass

Published on Wednesday 2 October 2013 by in News with no comments

The BITA center in the Netherlands organized a Masterclass ‘Business & IT alignment in practice’. A selection of speakers were invited from the annual Masterclass program to this one-off special to conduct a series of practice based presentations.

The aim was to provide practical tools, instruments and advice delegates could take away to help improve business and IT alignment.

Rob Poels  (Twijnstra Gudde) opened the event with a session entitled ‘Get more out of ICT – interventions that count’! His opening facts stating that 68% IT projects still fail and that 60% of business managers perceive IT as a ball & chain around their necks, were clear indications why such a Masterclass was required.  He also stated how the term itself ‘Business & IT alignment’ was a barrier to success.

Why are we failing? too much energy and focus on procedures, organizational structures and contracts and not enough on people and the ‘softer aspects’.  What were the key interventions that are seen to work according to Rob?

It starts with having a clear vision on the role of IT within the organization. Does IT matter, is IT strategic? From an IT perspective it is all about gaining trust and credibility – this starts with demonstrating that IT can reduce outages and risks caused by failing IT.  A clear message was ‘people make the difference’, engagement is critical to help change the attitudes of both business and IT people. Rob gave examples of buddy systems between business an IT, letting IT people perform roles in the business. Bringing business and IT people together to engage and experiment.

Barry Dirksen (Business & IT Trends Institute) well known in the Netherlands for his annual insight into trends in business & IT showed that BIA (Business-IT alignment) is still the number 1 concern. But what is BIA and how can we gain insight into the underlying issues that need solving? He gave an example of using the Jerry Luftman’s 6 key areas in BIA and how the BITTI self read more assessment can give insight into current maturity and improvement needs. These 6 key areas being Communication, Value, Governance, Partnerships, Architecture and Skills. Barry also stated the relevance of addressing the people aspects of ‘Attitude, Behaviour and Culture’ (ABC) showing two key ABC worst practices identified. One being ‘IT has too little understanding of Business impact & Priority’ and ‘Not my responsibility’.

Gerard Wijers (Anderson MacGyver) in his session ‘The Business doesn’t exist’ stressed the need for business & IT to enter a dialogue on 3 key areas ‘Strategic agenda’, ‘Business change agenda’ and the Service portfolio. IT organizations must focus more on innovation, the business intermediary role (e.g Information management) and demonstrating value. Business & IT Managers must engage more, enter into a dialogue and collaborate if they want to be successful.

Paul Wilkinson (GamingWorks) held a mini workshop (1 ½ hours) using the Grab@Pizza business and IT alignment simulation game. In this game the team plays the business and IT roles in a fictional Pizza franchise organization called Grab@Pizza. The challenge of the team is to create additional growth and revenue, lower costs and reduce business risks using IT as a strategic enabler. The business simulation is used to bring IT and business people together to ‘experiment’, to explore, to enter a dialogue, to focus on attitude and behaviour and assess their own level of BIA maturity and agreed shared actions for improving.

What were the key discoveries in the Grab@Pizza session relating to BIA issues, discoveries that we recognize in practice?

  • Poor structure in communication between business and IT and between IT SILO’s, caused confusion, poor decision making, incorrect use of resources, wasted costs.
  • IT did not KNOW the business strategy and key goals in relation to the planning.
  • The Business did not share the strategic plans and goals an did not ensure adequate metrics and reports were gathered to enable steering and effective decision making.
  • The number 1 ABC (Attitude, Behavior, Culture) worst practice card chosen in workshops is still ‘IT has too little understanding in business impact and priority’. IT support was unaware of the ‘impact of outages’ – the loss of productivity, revenue, wasted costs.
  • Neither Business nor IT understood the concept of service (Value, Outcomes, Costs, Risks). Both thought services were all about delivering value.
  • Business and IT did not have a portfolio overview of all changes, relating them to Value (Revenue growth), Outcomes (business growth and productivity), Costs(both business and IT operational costs) and Risks (Reducing the IT risks that may prevent business value and outcomes from being realized).
  • The SLM function is more than simply measuring and using SLA’s as a reporting instrument. The SLM function must ensure business AND IT needs are known, understood and translated into capabilities for delivering V,O,C,R.
  • The speakers in the morning session also focused on the ‘value’ position of IT and how IT must demonstrate  value, however in my mind the RISK proposition is equally, if not more important in a rapidly changing landscape in which Information is a strategic, critical business asset. IT must demonstrate it can manage the associated risks related to the explosive use of IT in all business activities
  • In the game the business ‘assumed’ that IT knew what it was doing and would deliver. IT did not deliver. The business blamed IT and I, acting as CEO equally blamed the business. They had not put any governance mechanisms in place.
  • The team instantly created a wall, a ‘them and us’ culture of ‘business’ and ‘IT’ reinforcing the business & IT chasm and need for alignment. At the end they were reflecting and talking as ‘we’, WE as one team need to change our behaviour to ensure business succeeds using IT as a strategic capability.

This is what the team captured. see the global captured discoveries of more than 500 business and IT managers.

Jan Truijens (University of Amsterdam) closed the session showing how architecture is the fundament to a sustainable growth in an increasingly complex, dynamic, growing landscape such as IT. 

My conclusions at the end of the day? Business & IT alignment is basically a people thing. Engagement Dialogue, Understanding, Trust, Credibility, Communication, Ownership, Responsibility and a Shared focus on what counts….making the business successful.


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