Business/IT Alignment is all about making sure that management decisions related to IT are grounded in solid, identifiable business strategies and priorities.  A BITA engagement typically involves working with organizations to assist management with the data, information and assessments required for sound management decisions.  The article attached below from Michael McLaughin at RainToday suggests that this is the one, single critical service that EVERY professional services company should offer to their clients.

Sometimes in the quest for solid, long-term project revenue, professional services firms can lose focus on the value of quick, strategic assessments to clients. It is these assessments that help clients identify high priority challenges and provide some shape to move forward.  Many client organizations are faced with multiple symptoms of issues that are simply overwhelming to management.  Often there are interdependencies that make it difficult to separate one issue from another so that they can be addressed.  The uncertainty of what to address can prevent organizations from ever getting to the point of discussing how to successfully do it.  The best investment senior management can make before confirming any initiative or project, is to engage a knowledgeable, independent consultant to examine the situation and provide an assessment of what the core issues are, what the implications are (risks/benefits) and recommendations on a strategy to move forward. If this is done before projects are authorized, it will save considerable project planning time and the potential of significant re-work once the project becomes active.  It is not lost investment: it is shifting investment to the front end of an engagement before resources are committed at the back end.  I would also suggest that if more organizations grasped this one small truth, management decisions generally – whether projects or operations –  would have a much higher success probability.

The One Service Every Consultant Should Offer – RainToday.

Earlier this month I had the privilege of presenting at the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) conference in Winnipeg on the topic of Business/IT Alignment. I wanted to focus the presentation on a topic that was relevant to business analysts, so the title was: Strategic Business Analysis: An Essential Skill for Business/IT Alignment. As I prepared the presentation and reviewed the key points from the Business Analysis Book of Knowledge (BABOK), I was struck – again – at how limited our interpretation of business analysis is within the work environment and how comprehensive the application of business analysis could be based on BABOK. So often, we view BA simply as a required sub-activity within another project, rather than an activity that has value in its own right. To be fair, even the assumed association as a part of project work is something to rejoice over, given that only a few years ago most organizations viewed business analysis work as ‘optional’. We probably all remember when the clients just assumed that the business knowledge required for the project work would just be discovered or extracted somewhere along the line by the project team. Project managers (usually because they ended up responsible for this activity) were likely the first to realize that this ‘discovery’ process required a different set of skills from the technical expertise of the project team, and from the management and coordination skills of the PM. Most project teams now automatically include at least one BA role to work with the business, and have seen project success improve as a result. Even this, however, is a limited role and only scratching the surface of the true value that a BA can provide to an organization. Business Analysis is more than just providing requirements to a technical team, or advising on implementation changes to the business users. It is more than just an input to attain a project outcome. Properly understood, business analysis can become a strategic activity to improve not only project success, but provide decision support to management and executives in strategic and operational planning. To do this, ‘Business Analysis’ does not need to change or mature – it is ready to take this on now, with a mature best practice model, internationally recognized standards and professional certification. Business attitudes, however, need to mature to recognize the value that sound business analysis can contribute – not just within the limited operational scope of a project, but also at a corporate level to support enterprise business decisions.

View/Download IIBA Presentation:  Adnams BITA IIBA Nov 3

Another fascinating question from one of my strategy network forums: What is a company’s core competency? It sounds easy enough, but from some of the responses provided, it seems clear to me that there’s a lot of confusion around what a company’s core competency is, let alone how to go about identifying it!

This could be tremendously detailed and complex, but it sounds like the colleague posing the question is looking for a basic answer to a basic question: how does a company identify what its core competency is? If a company only does one thing, then it’s pretty easy, but as organizations are growing they often take on many different activities, and can lose sight of what they started out to do. Often some of these ‘extra’ activities are necessary in the early days to support the key activity, but over time, as practices, structure and expectations grow around these activities, the ‘extras’  take on a life of their own. I could probably write pages on this tangent alone, but here’s my simple answer to the basic question:

A company’s core competency is whatever it is that they do that no other company can do the same way, and that can’t be outsourced to anyone else. (Some would add that there should be a customer/client demand for the product or service as well, but there’s also the argument that if you have a unique product/service, you can always create a market!)

I’ve told clients and colleagues in the past: if you’re doing something that someone else can do better, faster or cheaper, then get out of that business – that’s not your core competency, no matter how much you may like to do that or how long you’ve been doing it. Once a company knows what it exists for and clearly understands their core competency, making strategic decisions becomes a much easier activity!

What about your company – does this simple rule apply and if not, how would you define your organization’s core competency?

It’s time to move on from business/IT alignment to a more coherent enterprise. -John Gøtze

I found this quote from the recent EA Conference in Toronto rather interesting, and thought I should do a little research into it. Unfortunately, it is presented in the conference notes in a stream of ‘general comments’ and without context, which makes it difficult to interpret accurately. The source, John Gøtze, is the International President of the Association of Enterprise Architects, and he is highly credentialed and respected in the field.

It didn’t take long to discover two interesting points:
• Gøtze has a separate web-site and blog called Coherency Management
• Gøtze has just published and is actively promoting his new book called – you guessed it – Coherency Management.

[Just a little aside…look at the Winnipeg connection on the book website: “We will use the coherencymanagement.org website not just to promote the book, but also to be a platform for continued dialogues about coherency management and for publishing further studies. We’re especially interested in relevant case studies, and have published one such: Neil Kemp’s interesting case study about Winnipeg Fleet Management.” ]

Fair enough – Gøtze is marketing a new product and trying to distinguish it from other ideas and products at a professional conference by introducing new terminology. One might question whether it’s totally appropriate for the President of a professional organization to do so at an international conference of that association. In those circumstances, it can be difficult to separate the personal agenda from the official role, but the truth is, it happens all the time. (Hmm…probably another future blog here on governance and role separation…).

It is well known – and broadly supported – that a key purpose and mandate of EA is to contribute to the alignment of business and IT. The intention of EA, as first developed by Zachman, was clearly to provide a framework for addressing the growing gap between business needs and direction, and the black box involvement that had become technology services. This revolutionary perspective called for IT to consider business services and programs as the guide to technology services and programs. Well intentioned, but perhaps because it started with the IT focus, EA has remained firmly fixed within our culture as an IT activity. Gøtze comments on this, stating that “the EA profession is mired in a technology paradigm that grossly undersells its capability to bring coherence to the entire business.” There’s that term again: ‘coherence’. So what does Gøtze mean by ‘coherence’ and how is he defining it? Is this something fundamentally new, or just a new buzz-word to throw into the EA/IT jargon to spice it up a little?

There’s a detailed definition on the Coherency Management website, but it seems that the coherency issue revolves around what we have traditionally referred to as Knowledge Management and Business Intelligence. Gøtze observes that business is currently in a period of ‘incoherency’ due to information overload: “This period of incoherency starts with the recognition that we simply have too much information to process. One might say that that the unintended plague of the information age is …information. Not information in and of itself, but rather, incoherent information.” In his definition ‘Coherency Management’ is intended to architect order and structure around the definition of, and use of, business information.

So how does this relate to business/IT alignment? I’m still not sure but we can take some guesses. Business/IT alignment is the recurring priority for business executives in multi-year surveys and is not going to go away. One element within the concept of alignment is information management, which is also a pressing business driver for change. EA can address a small area of IM, by developing and standardizing data/information architecture, but without the context of business architecture, technology architecture and application architecture, this will do little to address the KM/BI issues. Although I admire Gøtze for trying to come up with a new way to encapsulate the issues around enterprise information, I’m not sure that introducing new terminology is the way to do it, and I’m having a difficult time seeing how ‘coherency’ replaces ‘alignment’. Whether or not an organization practices ‘Coherency Management’, there will continue to be a need for Business/IT Alignment.

Note: Quotes from John Gøtze web site: http://coherencymanagement.org/coherency-management/

It’s taken many years for the business environment to reach the point where there was a good, general understanding of IT services such as programming, networking, databases, communications, implementations. As technology has become more pervasive in society and business has become more knowledgeable about those technologies, it has become easier for IT service companies to explain their specific services to clients. Just as we think we’ve finally grasped ‘information technology’, however, new challenges are emerging in defining and explaining ‘business technology’.

With BT we shift the focus away from the technology at the centre, to business at the centre. Some would argue this has always been the case, but in reality, for many years, the singular ‘coolness’ of rapidly evolving technologies has been driving its own evolution, with business value and benefits more of an afterthought. BT re-sets the use of technology as a core enabler of business to create a new phrase: ‘technology-enabled business’. As we move into this new era of BT, however, we also move into new areas of skills and analytical expertise such as business process, investment value, organizational models and performance assessments. Now IT (or BT) service companies need to learn how to present these services in new terms, not as separate from IT but as a natural extension and evolution to BT. Business/IT Alignment provides a framework for integrating technologies into a business-focused agenda.

If you’re struggling with the role of technology in your organization, and trying to reconcile this with the increasing demand for planning, organizational changes, analysis and assessment, then contact me to arrange a BITA assessment, and move your organization into the new BT movement!

One of the key best practice frameworks used within BITA is the IT Service Management/ITIL framework. Anyone who has pursued ITSM knows that it is fundamentally about putting defined processes in place to identify IT services required by the organization, and to deliver those services to the business. Although it is traditionally viewed as ‘operationally focused’, ITIL V3 has matured into a more ‘service focused’ framework. Pursuing the alignment of business and IT is dependent on recognizing the inherent service relationships between the two, and defining those relationships to provide consistency. ITIL V3 is no longer fixated on the configuration database or helpdesk, instead viewing both these items as part of the arsenal enabling effective IT service management.

ITSM/ITIL in and of itself is not Business/IT Alignment, but Business/IT Alignment leverages ITSM as one of the set of recommended best practices that can help provide structure in service definition and establish consistent, repeatable practices for service delivery. BITA provides organizations that are looking to implement ‘ITIL’ with a context and purpose for a ITSM program that takes into consideration environmental realities of architecture and infrastructure, resourcing, policies, business processes and dependent projects.

Interested in ITSM/ITIL? Let’s talk BITA first to see what it will mean to your business!