Strategic Mis-Alignment

Pascal van Eck (www.cs.utwente.nl/~patveck) and Roel Wieringa (www.cs.utwente.nl/~roelw)

The GRAAL project (is.cs.utwente.nl/GRAAL)

University of Twente, the Netherlands

14 November 2004

 

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In a well-known paper, Henderson and Venkatraman identify different ways to align what they call IT infrastructure to the business. The GRAAL framework is a refinement of the Henderson-Venkatraman framework for strategic alignment because the GRAAL framework uses the same distinction between business systems and IT infrastructure.

 

 

This diagram shows three layers of our framework, namely infrastructure, business systems, and business. It shows the framework along the refinement dimension, where on the left-hand side we have strategic, long-term descriptions and on the right-hand side we have operational descriptions of the IT infrastructure, business systems, and the business. The common way of working in the organizations we studied is that business operations, in particular business processes, drive the design decisions about business system architecture. Landscape maps in one form or another play a central role in this. (Landscape mapes are explained in the white paper on business systems.) As explained in the white paper on infrastructure, infrastructure decisions are not driven by business operations but by various other forces, one of which is business strategy. This leads to an infrastructure architecture that may not necessarily align very well with business system operations. From our observations, we make the following generalization.

 

  • Proposition. Business system architecture is driven by business operations and infrastructure architecture is driven by the IT infrastructure strategy.

 

The result is a strategic misalignment that is hard to repair. This misalignment is aggravated because the business system development process is usually out of phase with the infrastructure development process. Business systems are (re)developed when the business calls for it, for example because users ask for it. Infrastructure, by contrast is (re)developed on a time-driven bases, for example once a year. The two processes are usually out of step with each other. One solution to this problem is to (re)develop business systems in a time-driven manner too, and synchronize this with the infrastructure process. Although this solves the problem of synchronization of the two processes, it introduces the problem that the response to business needs is slowed down. We have not seen this solution practiced in the organizations we studied, so we cannot comment upon its effectiveness (or lack of it).

References

  1. J.C. Henderson and N. Venkatraman. ``Strategic alignment: leveraging information technology for transforming operations''. IBM Systems Journal, 32(1):416, 1993.