Aligning IT/IS with Business Strategy Re-Visited: A View from Complex Adaptive Systems

Aligning IT/IS with Business Strategy Re-Visited: A View from Complex Adaptive Systems

Kevin Grant (Glasgow Caledonian University, UK), Ray Hackney (Brunel University, UK), and David Edgar (Glasgow Caledonian University, UK)
Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/jitbag.2010070101
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This paper explores the co-relational process activities of information technology and systems (IT/IS) and business strategy alignment. The notion of “process” as being strategy and strategic alignment has been observed but not examined. Organizations are both complex and adaptive, and these attributes create significant challenges for managers when assessing strategic requirements. A need exists to further understand alignment as a process and embrace this concept when aligning business IT/IS with the strategic goals of the organisation. This highlights an important distinction of “process” that recasts the nature of congruence and reassesses the appropriateness and usefulness of current practice. The authors propose the use of principles underpinning complex adaptive systems as a way to re-orientate IT/IS alignment in a meaningful and more appropriate manner. The context for the study is the UK Health Service, and informed by a case analysis of 26 senior members from a Scottish Health Board.
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It/Is Alignment1

Given the plethora of definitions that exist, it is necessary to unpack some of the key elements of what constitutes IT/IS alignment. The concept or, perhaps more precisely, the notion of strategic IT/IS alignment, as portrayed in the academic literature, centres on three arguments, captured eloquently by Hirschheim and Sabherwal (2001):

  • Organizational performance depends on structures and capabilities that support the successful realization of strategic decisions;

  • Alignment is a two-way process, where business and IS strategies can act as mutual drivers;

  • Strategic IS alignment ‘is not an event but a process of continuous adaptation and change’ (Henderson & Venkatraman, 1993).

Taking a more contemporary view, there are potentially five dimensions that can be considered in order to conceptualize IT/IS alignment fully. In effect, the five dimensions are not exhaustive, but are an attempt to explore the fact that IT/IS alignment rests in difficult terrain. A terrain typified by shifting perspectives and views, and across variables relating to intellectual, technical, operational, political, practical and strategic aspects impacting at different times and to different degrees.

The five dimensions relate to strategic and intellectual, formal structures, informal structures, social and cultural domains, taking each in turn.

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