The Four Phases of IT/Business Alignment

Ensuring IT alignment with the business has traditionally been viewed as the CIO’s job. However, successful IT/business alignment entails more than executive level communication and strategy translation.

CIOs who achieve alignment typically do so by establishing a set of well-planned process improvement programs that systematically address obstacles and go beyond executive level conversation to permeate the entire IT organization and its culture.

See more IT/Business alignment coverage on CIOUpdate here and here.

One commonly used methodology is the “IT/Business Alignment Cycle”, which introduces a simple framework that the IT organization can adopt to manage a broad range of activities.

The four phases of the cycle are: plan, model, manage, and measure.

Following this cycle fosters organization-wide shared expectations between business and IT managers, and defines a common framework for a broad range of activities that together serve to align IT and business objectives. The cycle also identifies best practices and common processes within and between IT functional groups to make IT/business alignment sustainable and scalable.

This framework functions best when integrated and automated with software applications and monitoring tools.

The Cycle

Now let’s examine the four phases individually, describing the activities, best practices, and benefits associated with each phase.

Plan: Translating business objectives into measurable IT services. The plan phase helps close the gap between what business managers need and expect and what IT delivers.

According to Giga Research, IT leaders in poorly aligned organizations are still attempting to explain technology management issues to their business colleagues and have not made the leap to understanding business issues and communicating with business managers on their terms.

To close the gap between what business expects and what IT delivers, IT needs an ongoing dialogue to clarify business needs in business terms. Without an ongoing dialogue, IT may not be able to determine which IT services to offer or how to effectively allocate IT resources to maximize business value. Furthermore, when business needs change, IT should adapt and modify the service offering and IT resources appropriately.

CIOs should mandate the use of a disciplined service level management process that will lead to agreement on specific IT services and service levels needed to support business objectives. IT management can then translate service definitions and service levels into underlying rules and priorities that empower and guide IT resources.

Finally, IT needs a way to measure and track both business level services and the underlying capabilities that support the services.

Model: Design infrastructure to optimize business value The model phase identifies resources needed to deliver IT services at committed service levels. This phase involves mapping IT assets, processes, and resources back to IT services, then prioritizing and planning resources that support those business critical services.

The bottom line in measuring the success of alignment is the degree to which IT is working on the things about which business managers care. That means IT must have processes in place for prioritizing projects, tasks, and support.

To successfully prioritize resources, IT needs a service impact model and a centralized configuration and asset management repository to tie the infrastructure components back to specific IT services. This combination is essential if IT is to effectively plan, prioritize, and consistently deliver services at agreed-upon service levels while also reducing costs.

Manage: Drive results through consolidated service support The manage phase enables the IT staff to deliver promised levels of service. CIOs can ensure that their organization meets expectations by providing a single location for business users to submit all service requests, and by prioritizing those requests based on pre-defined business priorities.

Without a single point-of-service request, it is difficult to manage resources to meet agreed-upon service levels. Moreover, without a method for effectively managing the IT infrastructure and all changes, the IT staff faces the risk of causing failures.

To ensure the effectiveness of the service desk, the IT staff needs to provide:

  • A method for prioritizing service requests based on business impact.
  • A disciplined change management process to minimize the risk of negatively affecting service level commitments.
  • An IT event management system to monitor and manage components that support business critical services.
  • The underlying operational metrics that enable service delivery at promised levels, as well as the means for measuring and tracking the progress of service level commitments using these metrics.

    Measure: Verify commitments and improve operations The measure phase improves cross-organization visibility into operations and service level commitments.

    Traditional IT management tools operate in functional silos that confine data collection and operational metrics to focused areas of functionality. They typically relate more to technology than to business objectives.

    Component-level metrics and measures are certainly important for ongoing service availability. However, to support real-time resource allocation decisions, these measures must be interpreted in a broader business context, including their relationship to business-critical services. Without a business context for interpreting measures and metrics, isolated functional groups can’t get a holistic view of IT services that support business objectives.

    By committing to the cycle and integrating and automating activities using software solutions, CIOs can align their whole organization to make systematic improvements that overcome obstacles.

    Mary Nugent is vice president of Service Management Solutions for BMC Software.