The Five Flavors of Alignment

Focusing on one style of business-technology alignment is limited – we need the full “sampler” to be effective.
Posted December 11, 2006

Steve Andriole

Steve Andriole

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There are five alignment flavors for us to consider, but let’s remember that we don’t get to pick just one – we have to taste them all. I am going crazy talking to people about business technology alignment – people who think about alignment as conversations between planners and technologists, or meetings between marketing and database people. It’s much more than that.

Alignment plays out across five integrated flavors:

1. Strategic Alignment

2. Infrastructure Alignment

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3. Operational Alignment

4. Innovation Alignment

5. People Alignment

Strategic Alignment

Strategic alignment is what most of us think about when we hear the term “alignment.” The key is to make sure that technology investments are consistent with strategic objectives. For example, if a company decides that eBusiness will become a much more important part of the business, then it needs to make sure that its eBusiness infrastructure is secure, scalable and reliable.

This is a classic alignment test: if a company balks at the technology investments necessary to support its strategic objectives then it will fail one of the most basic alignment tests. Without a tight coupling there will be gaps, and just when a company wants to execute its strategy it may find that its technology investments won’t support the strategy.

Infrastructure Alignment

Infrastructure alignment is about seamless cost-effectiveness. Perfect infrastructure alignment happens when everything “works” behind the curtain, that performance is consistently reliable and secure.

Companies that want additional infrastructure alignment invest in infrastructure control systems like COBIT and ITIL. (I wrote about these in July in Who’s in Control?) The infrastructure must support strategic, operational and innovation alignment.

Operational Alignment

Operational alignment is about flexibility, adaptation and agility. While the applications, communications and data architectures should be reasonably defined in well governed organizations, there needs to be enough flexibility in the deployment of these capabilities to enable businesses to make the changes to their products and services they need to stay competitive.

Operational alignment is less about strategy and the anticipated need for consistency between next generation products/services and the technology necessary to develop, deliver and service them, than it is about servicing existing products and services. When lines of business need to adjust their products or services, change their reporting requirements or alter their marketing materials, they need their applications, data bases and communications to change with them. While this, of course, does not mean that they will frequently require whole new applications and databases, it does mean that applications and databases yield the right things at the right time.

Next page: Total Alignment

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