Don’t just build business-IT alignment, map it

As CIOs strive to evolve IT from a Solid Utility or Trusted Supplier to a fully integrated business partner, they need the ability to describe IT functions in business terms. Business-IT alignment will only occur when both parties develop a common understanding of what’s important to the business, how this relates to the business model and the supporting technology, and where to prioritize investments for measurable improvements. Business capability maps provide a framework to capture, assess, and communicate these needs. These maps put technology strategies such as SOA and application consolidation in the context of the business process, functions, and capabilities they affect, as well as help enterprise architects (EA) design application and information architecture.

Capability maps are quickly becoming the core component of business architecture initiatives, however, there are no industry standard models or frameworks to guide architects in their development. Enterprise architects who embark on developing and using a capability map frequently have questions as where to start and what to include in this map. Fortunately, Forrester has talked with dozens of consulting companies and business architects about how they construct and use capability maps. From these discussions, we have developed a six-step process that provides the foundation to successfully build and apply capability maps.

Step 1: Identify the Business-IT Alignment Issues

Interview stakeholders individually to get as many perspectives as possible. Start with IT stakeholders and use the results of those interviews to refine the interview process before moving on to the business stakeholders. Later, analyze the interview data for response patterns and themes that would indicate common problem areas. Validate these findings with stakeholders to ensure that the identified problems accurately reflect their concerns and interests.

Step 2: Define Your Approach

Create a current-state view that is a composite of the issues defined in step 1, as well as a future-state composite view that describes how business and IT interactions will look after implementing a capability map approach. Then use the current and future-state views to map alignment issues to solution options and focus on the issues that can be best resolved or significantly improved using a capability map approach to guide decision-making. In addition, you’ll need to carefully select the roles needed to make the initiative successful and identify all resources, including internal and external consultants.

Step 3: Develop the Business Case

Begin by making a staffing ramp model that shows the amount of time each resource will need to apply to the initiative and when each player needs to engage. Develop mitigation approaches for challenges the team will tackle, and note those that will need stakeholder support to overcome.

You’ll also need to determine what tools and technologies you should be using to increase effectiveness. A typical toolbox might include modeling tools, mind-mapping tools, collaboration tools, and a document repository. Finally, develop a cost estimate that includes when the funding will be needed. The key to making a great pitch to your stakeholders is practice, practice, practice. Remember to be clear, concise and confident as you present the road map, resource list, challenges, and funding request. The goal is to get the project totally funded, but if you can’t — get as much as you can. Promoting and selling often need to continue long after funding is approved in order to ensure that everyone remains committed to the outcome.

Step 4: Build the Capability Map

The organizing principles most typically found in capability maps are value streams, business functions, and services to clients. Pick the method that is most aligned to business thinking. Once the method is established, the capability framework can be defined.

Next, pick one area of the framework to focus on in order to validate that the structure is at the right level. Select a single organizing element to begin with based on business complexity and the level of engagement expected from the business participants. Identify the capabilities for that element and add details .Typical details include capability description (usually a paragraph or two), people, process, technology, information, business goals, metrics, and gaps. Repeat across all of the organizing elements. At the end of this step, you should have a very clear capability map documented, validated, and ready to apply to the business-IT alignment issues identified.

Step 5: Apply the Capability Map to Identified Problems

There are numerous ways in which capability maps can be applied to a wide array of problems. For example, Business and IT planners can create a capability map view to help focus investment decisions on the most effective areas. You would begin by identifying the core capabilities that provide significant market differentiation and competitive leadership. Overlay this map with a performance analysis of those core capabilities. The resulting map illuminates where capabilities need additional investment. Alternatively, some organizations apply capability maps to project portfolio management, while others use them to identify efficiency problems.

Step 6: Assess Progress and Refine the Approach

Step back and take a critical look at the work to date, so that you can make course corrections as needed. Re-examine interim deliverables, recognize unforeseen issues that affected progress, and estimate how future events might slow or accelerate progress. Determine overall impact by documenting both quantitative and anecdotal evidence, identifying where capability maps have added bottom-line value, and gathering data through stakeholder interviews. By this point, the BA team should have a clear understanding of where additional value lies and whether enough has been accomplished to bring the initiative to a close.

Jeff Scott is a Senior Analyst at Forrester Research, where he serves Enterprise Architecture professionals. He is a leading expert in business architecture, IT strategy development, enterprise architecture program management, delivering EA value, and IT innovation.

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