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The Nuts and Bolts of Alignment

The Nuts and Bolts of Alignment

IT-business alignment.Business buy-in.Business sponsors for IT projects. CIO checks out eight IT projects to see if it's just ‘yadda, yadda, yadda' or if business and IT are walking the talk together

When Arnott's Biscuits had to integrate with a third-party logistics provider to support the outsourcing of its warehousing and distribution activities in Victoria, ensuring IT alignment was right at the top of its to-do list. To secure that alignment, e-commerce manager Paul Williams kicked off with a series of workshops with business stakeholders to scrutinise current business processes and examine how the business rules would have to change under the various B2B scenarios it had under consideration.

No such luxury for the Country Fire Authority (CFA) of Victoria when developing its Information Strategy last year. Consulting with the stakeholders was considerably more difficult for the CFA than Arnott's and remains problematic as it implements SAP finance under a resource-sharing arrangement with its metropolitan fire fighting cousins. The set of stakeholders across the CFA organisation is so broad, and includes such a large volunteer workforce, that getting stakeholder buy-in is a huge, albeit still necessary task.

The difficulties have forced a somewhat different approach to alignment at the CFA. Certainly the CFA works hard to get feedback from the field in terms of the system being implemented, but it also emphasises the role of its newly-defined information management strategy and a program charter to help ensure IT is always aligned to key business objectives.

Slightly different again was the approach when the City of Canada Bay - forged from the merger of two inner-Sydney councils - had to come up with a new suite of business systems applications for the new entity. There a new business systems committee began with an examination of all processes from both councils to see where they could be done differently and better, and then as part of the tender evaluation process got user input into every aspect of the proposed new systems. With implementation now under way, so-called "module champions" scattered around the organisation are charged with ensuring the implementation process is both thorough and smooth.

And when the stakeholders started to show signs of wanting to defend their turf rather than moving forward with business change, the council brought in an outside consultant who understood the business to reinforce messages the stakeholders were unwilling to accept from one of their own. "I thought that we were floundering a bit, with people becoming too parochial in terms of their particular views and not necessarily seeing outside the square," says director, information services, Nic Pasternatski. "They take more recognition from someone independent telling them so than from someone internal."

Since the age of vacuum tubes, business-IT alignment - how closely an organisation's IT strategy reflects and drives its overall business strategy - has been an obsession with IT managers chastened by criticism of projects for failing to reflect the organisation's business imperatives. Recent research from Cutter Consortium shows that while most companies regard their business-IT alignment as good, business-IT alignment remains a problem for these same companies. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to IT alignment. How the issue of alignment is approached depends on whether IT or business is driving the project; the nature of that project and the numbers and types of stakeholders involved. CIO recently looked at some of those approaches.

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