Business capability map: the path to align IT to the business

The theme of this year's Forrester Forum is making business technology real. Alex Cullen, a research director at Forrester Research, believes IT needs to shift from supplying IT to the business, to collaborating. Cliff Saran investigates.

The theme of this year's Forrester Forum is making business technology real. Alex Cullen, a research director at Forrester Research, believes IT needs to shift from supplying IT to the business, to collaborating. Cliff Saran investigates.

Since IT is so intertwined with business, business and IT people need to consider both the business and technology implications of any business activity. Alex Cullen, a research director at Forrester Research who will give the opening keynote speech, is tackling the perennial problem of business and IT alignment. He says, "IT business alignment is one of the most over-used buzz phrases. I am talking about it in terms of closing the gap."

Cullen says business IT alignment is about IT and the business focusing on business capabilities and aligning transformation programmes around these capabilities. "Today business and IT do not have conversations about how social media like Facebook fit in the company's plans."

For Cullen it is paramount that IT and the business define their key capabilities.

He says, "This can be used for discussions on what is important." IT can then craft its IT portfolios around individual goals that fit within an overall business capability map. The pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, Air France, Friends Provident and Deutsche Bank are examples of companies that have taken such an approach. Pfizer, for instance, used a business capability map to guide it through a major business transformation programme.

A different approach

Cullen believes the approach Forrester Research is taking to tackle IT business alignment is different, because previous strategies have treated the business as a customer and IT as the supplier. "Business has a hard time being clear. CIOs say that their firm's business strategy is too high-level. But IT needs to be able to work with this level of strategy."

Making IT more adaptable and agile in order to align with the high level business strategy is not the answer, he says. "IT departments that become adaptable are simply adaptable suppliers. They basically run out of runway because there is only so much adaptation you can do."

Instead he advises IT to change the dialogue they have with the business by using a business capability map. He says the business has greater clarity about what IT can deliver. For IT, tangible benefits include undertaking fewer projects - since only those that fit onto the business capability map are given the green light.

"IT does projects that are more functionally complete because there is a better understanding of what the business requires." Moreover, Cullen says, a business capability map can actually save the company money since it cuts down on all the redundant overlapping projects and "point solutions", which don't match with the business capability map,

According to Cullen, businesses using business capability mapping say that projects are easier to deploy. "Projects go into operations more smoothly because IT and the business plan their parts of the project using the same frameworks."

Cullen says among the biggest benefits is that the better business and IT plan and collaborate, the more opportunities can be pursued. "Bad planning creates huge inefficiencies. Good planning creates a lot of benefits."

However business capability mapping is still young. "Many companies we have spoken to are still in their first year," Cullen says. To get started Cullen recommends IT begin talking to the business about how it can be used to improve planning. Business and IT need to work together to put the model together, so that it captures their goals and their key metrics.

He also suggested that to succeed the model needs to be simple. "Curb your inner architect. We are not trying to define a complex system." By using the business capability map within IT, Cullen says IT teams can become much smarter.

Careful mapping will pay off

Many architects are initiating their business architecture (BA) programs by developing business capability maps. While the finalised maps themselves are fairly simple, the process to create them isn't.

Business capability map development requires detailed planning. Architects building capability maps in isolation quickly run into hurdles as they try to engage the business.

Successful business architects are taking a more structured approach to engage stakeholders and build business support by including business players from the beginning of the process. Creating a formalised plan for capability development provides architects with the vehicle they need to secure critical resources and lay the foundations for business support.

Source: Building Capability Maps For Business-IT Alignment, by Jeff Scott with Alex Cullen, Forrester, April 2010

Forrester IT Forum EMEA 2010 ticket discount offer for Computer Weekly readers:

Alex Cullen is speaking at Forrester's IT Forum EMEA 2010, which is taking place from 9 to 11 June in Lisbon, Portugal. Forrester offers Computer Weekly readers a special discount of €600 on the standard rate for IT Forum EMEA 2010 tickets. To register with this discount, please call the Forrester Events Hotline on +31 (0)20 305 4848 and quote VIP code COMPW2.

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