Business alignment is a crucial component in managing information. It is also one of the most often stated obstacles to effective IT (Gartner, Forrester, et al.). The two concepts are related. If information is handled and used without regard to an overarching business perspective, then you get quality issues, lack of accuracy, and chaos around data.
Hence, IT is historically considered ineffective by business leaders. When CIOs are asked why they have trouble keeping the business side satisfied, they say “we do not know what the business needs, only what they want.” So IT tends to deliver data and information on a “squeaky wheel basis” that is unaligned to real business needs and fragmented. The joke goes that CIO stands for Career Is Over. This dark humor has roots in the lack of alignment between IT and business direction. This chapter [excerpt] will cover why business alignment is so important to information asset management (IAM), and review the essentials of the EIM processes for alignment.
Efforts to link business directions to information and content needs are often not effective. Organizations try alignment exercises, but successful efforts that demonstrate linkage with IT — and especially with EIM — are rare. Often the alignment exercise is done against an entire portfolio.
This exercise is valuable and focuses increasing business value on the ROI of achieving business change with IT. But such an exercise falls short in terms of asset management because information is relegated to a kind of application to be managed vs. a business asset that IT is interacting with.
Too often the shortcoming is that business goals are aligned with one-off projects, or focus on short-term activity. (The famous “low-hanging fruit.”) This is not to say that short-term needs are not met by EIM. On the contrary, we will show in this chapter they are actually met more readily.
We will also see how deriving the correct business drivers and aligning the EIM effort with them is a key step in managing information as an asset.
How Do EIM Objectives Tie To Business Goals?
There are many needs to be met by an organization that understands that data and content are fuel. There is also a balancing act that has to occur. Goals requiring some sort of data or content enablement cannot all be met simultaneously. We have to understand the nature of the business needs, and present a picture of what the data and content can make possible. Alongside the satisfaction of business needs, we have to blend in the formalizing of information as an asset so the meeting of business needs is sustainable.
Figure 1 represents the intersection types of business drivers and managed information. When data and content are considered in support of the business, we need to understand there are three distinct benefit areas:
- Business benefits that stem from efficiencies — Organizations can drive numbers to the balance sheet or bottom line by getting leaner. We can do things faster. In the information arena, we have promised data efficiencies via reuse or low redundancy, but these tend to be squishy, and rarely drive a hard dollar to a financial statement.
- Direct support of business initiatives — These are hard dollar benefits that have eluded being attributed to IM efforts. However, information certainly does support new business projects. The benefits are there, but aligning them with the information project in terms of contribution, cost, and benefit does not happen often.
- Risk avoidance — This category of benefit has been remote from EIM-type efforts until recently. Risk can stem from traditional fiduciary risk, or risk from noncompliance, civil suits, or fraud. However, using and managing information to avoid risk has become more prominent in recent years as regulations requiring advanced IM (privacy law and regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley) come into play.
As we view these benefit categories from an asset management standpoint, we want a balance point where information adds the most value to the organization. We may be able to justify and reap benefits simply from the efficiency context. We have done this with IT for years. Occasionally, we deploy new technology that supplies huge business benefits. But after the initial rush of benefits, we always seem to end up with a dénouement where the data supplied by the radical new technology does not stand the test of time. The large returns initially experienced are not sustained.
So let us add the asset management view. What combination of benefits will not only supply early payback (i.e., improve the income statement), but also improve our balance sheet? To improve a balance sheet means improving assets or equity, or reducing risk.
Assets must be used or they have no value. An empty factory is written off. Machinery that is depreciated and no longer supporting required capacity needs is replaced. So the assets must contribute to a financial benefit. Figure 2 shows that IAM must display a decidedly deliberate drift AWAY from the IT efficiency play to align EIM with business activity and direction. The efficiency side covers benefits generated from “making better decisions” and “getting reports faster.” Granted they are legitimate benefits, but they do not align to the business at all. The business improvement (increase equity and assets) and risk management (reduce liabilities) sides move us closer to benefits that change financial statements and better justification to handle content as an asset.
The initial step to achieving IAM success is a thorough understanding of business needs in terms of applying data and content to achieve business goals. This happens in two steps.
1. Business objectives/plans are developed or gathered.
2. A formal technique is applied to identify business needs or opportunities where information and content create leverage or enable attainment of business goals.
Transparency and Planning
There are two scenarios that play out when gathering business needs for EIM alignment.
1. The first scenario develops where the business is cooperative. Detailed business objectives are available in strategic planning documents. There is enough transparency, so the EIM function can review these, and through an aligned EIM program manage information assets for maximum value in light of business needs. The organization usually will have a plan that ties business programs back to a taxonomy of business goals and objectives. When this happens, creating the EIM program business picture is a relatively straightforward exercise. When there is transparency, there is usually a nice list of corporate strategies or directions. The strategies are decomposed into programs with measurable goals and objectives and a clearly defined use of information to achieve objectives. Figure 3 shows the decomposition of a typical goal for a transportation company and highlights where we must use content of some sort to achieve the goal and objectives. The origin of all these columns is addressed at a later point in the book, but it is best to see the appearance of the end product of the gathering of objectives before reviewing any techniques. Columns 1 and 2 of Figure 3 are gathered, the next columns are derived. Once these are reviewed with management, it is easy to place them into the business alignment exercise to be covered shortly. You can see that one goal can decompose into a large set of requirements that shape EIM.
2. In scenario two, the business is not forthcoming. Sadly, the experiences of IT and EIM areas have been more along these lines. At times, organizations do not have business plans that are easily reviewed or even found. Often the organization has no plan reflecting any kind of targets.
Additionally, personal experience shows that at least 60-70% of large organizations do not possess a culture that is transparent enough to allow IT to see a clear vision of business direction. In this situation, IT is considered an order taker. That’s when the EIM “wannabe” team needs to get creative.
In the context of scenario two, EIM has no executive support. There may be a desire to support
EIM, but someone does not “get it.” A business area leader, even a CEO, may want to manage data and tighten up content and is willing to spend millions to do so. However, without the alignment and transparency, there is no support from within the business. Moral support is nice, but clear organizational support will get data and content assets managed. Remember, EIM is a business program. As such, you must allow it to participate as any other strategic function.
Assuming no clear business support or visible plan, the EIM team, or its equivalent, will do the alignment exercise in a guerilla mode or as a means to sell the idea of EIM. The team has two options:
1. Derive a high-level business “plan” from existing documents to the extent it supports further development of the EIM program.
2. Reduce EIM to an exercise to develop a rough blueprint of an EIM program based on what it does know. Benefits will stem from avoiding costly data mistakes and regulatory and compliance risks. The EIM program will be aligned at a level that will enable improved handling of data and content, but perhaps without a precise road map aligned with the business.
Turning Business Objectives into EIM Drivers
There are many techniques for ensuring alignment and moving toward IAM. All of them have to start with a desired business direction and turn it into a business requirement. Remember, IAM means striving for value from the content you create and use, so any alignment exercise should recognize the connection of value to content or data usage.
After almost two decades of doing alignment work, we have discerned there are really six broad classifications or means an organization can use data and content to improve or achieve goals. From the executive perspective, keep things simple — if you cannot fit the stated action with data into these six categories, then it may not be a business-aligned use of data, and for sure it is not a data asset that will drive value. Figure 4 lists these and provides examples. I have an ongoing wager — if a new classification can be uncovered, then dinner is on me — your choice.
These “usage value” categories form the basis for a series of simple techniques to ensure alignment. They provide a stable view from which to contrast and align business goals. Any artifact produced from a business strategy should contain something that resembles this. Remember, value is in usage. So it has to be acknowledged in the alignment exercises. Business leadership cannot track the EIM program and EIM effectiveness unless EIM functions and activity can be tied to results. That is the direct tie.
For example, Figure 5 takes a high-level strategic view of organizational value. Part of the view is from a groundbreaking book by Karl Sveiby, “New Organizational Wealth.” He states that organization value can be viewed from several perspectives. In Figure 5 it is internal, external, and staff. If we align these against the six categories of usage, we can see how it is not a major concern to come up with statements to align business direction with a statement of information asset usage value.
Take heart if you are not publicly traded, or cannot base your business strategy on brands and market position. The Sveiby lens is best for EIM scenarios where there is a lot of content involved that can leave the organization or is unstructured. It is just as useful to replace the columns with other traditional strategic context, such as market leader categories (e.g., product, customer, efficiency would replace external, internal, and enabler in Figure 5 — not shown in the chart earlier). If you are nonprofit or government, a slight adjustment of that model would result in columns saying services, funding, and efficiency.
Aligning EIM Program Objectives
The alignment exercise provides a pure business representation of what data can do for an enterprise. Data can be tied to direct business benefits — if the business achieves its objectives, what are the anticipated effects on balance sheets and income statements? Executing this technique at dozens of companies has given very pure and reliable indications of what is important to organizations.
The objectives of EIM programs, both initial and ongoing, are rooted in the Alignment activity. The
EIM program will be positioned to support the execution of the statements in these matrices. If the data or content cannot support the statements, then it may not be a vital content subject to management.
Occasionally, a business strategy will appear in a column and there is nothing to say. This most likely means that the business driver or goal is not data intensive, nor does it require extensive content. This is not a concern; it is just a business direction that is not concerned with EIM.
There is another view to take that may supplement the business value levers exercise in Figure 5.
This is done when the EIM program meets resistance at this early stage. Typical reasons for resistance at this point are:
- A lack of confidence that EIM can support any business programs.
- This “IT” effort should not lay claim to or be involved with business alignment.
It becomes easy to see why an “order taking” IT area will have problems. Encountering this type of resistance calls for what can best be called an “urban planning” approach. The value levers are derived, but from a different view of the organization. Consider the case of a medium-sized town that is growing.
It becomes evident the town needs a larger airport. Airports tend to be infrastructure efforts, with certain parties having to cough up money (the users aka taxpayers) for something they know has benefit but for which they cannot fi nd a direct reason. Even if it is apparent the region will not grow and get more tax revenue, more jobs, and better schools without the new airport, there is vocal resistance. How, then, is the funding sold? It is sold by adding up the benefits from the region and applying them to the airport. Does the airport get the money? No. Are there measurable benefits? Yes. So benefits may not be direct in the ROI sense, but they are there. And they have hard numbers associated with them.
Often, a CEO will prefer this approach to a controversial exercise for gaining business alignment.
A business case – derived set of levers can be done later on in the program after the concept is sold. You can support the business actions but without the ensuing business case. Using Figure 5 you would replace the internal, external categories with community, government body, or taxpayer.
Regardless of the technique or presentation, creating a clear vision of the role of data and content in achieving business direction is vital in getting EIM designed and adding value to an enterprise. Assets are used to further organization goals. This business usage must be defined if EIM will be based on IAM.
The alignment activity within EIM should be revisited annually. Alignment is a formal exercise and while the first iteration will be visible, it needs to become a scheduled function. We have seen that it is not hard to create a view of how information assets can support the business. The hard part is acknowledging and executing this critical activity if earlier efforts or culture has left IT or IM in a poor light. In an ideal world, the exercise of alignment is a business exercise. If there is an “order taking” culture where the CIO just receives work orders for reports and systems, the alignment exercises will require creativity.
Formal IAM is impossible in these kinds of organization, regardless of the inevitable and dire consequences. In those situations, it is best that the IT department perform a guerilla alignment exercise, just from a standpoint of due diligence. It is like the commercial for oil filters, pay now or pay later. Business alignment will occur. Do you want the alignment to information assets to be reactive or proactive?
1. Thorp, J., and Fujitsu Consulting’s Center for Strategic Leadership (2003). The Information Paradox (Rev. Ed.). Canada: McGraw-Hill, Ryerson.
©2011 Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved. Printed with permission from Morgan Kaufmann, a division of Elsevier. Copyright 2011. “Making Enterprise Information Management Work for Business” by John Ladley. For more information on this title and other similar books, please visit elsevierdirect.com
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