Alignment: The Activity Domain in the Centre

Alignment: The Activity Domain in the Centre

Lars Taxén (Linköping University, Sweden)
Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-192-6.ch013
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Abstract

The purpose of this chapter is to permeate the alignment area from the ADT perspective. In doing so I will focus on the alignment of B and K strategies, since this can be apprehended as a wider scope than the more tangible alignment of, say B strategies and IT strategies. The reason is that knowledge according to ADT is directly related to the work object of the activity domain. It is in the activity domain that capabilities of both humans and mediational means are enacted, and mediational means are, among other things, ISs and IT. Thus, business strategies and IS/IT cannot be directly aligned since that would “short-cut” the enactment process in the activity domain.
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Many executives are struggling to articulate the relationship between their organization's competitive strategy and its intellectual resources and capabilities. They do not have well-developed strategic models that help them to link knowledge-oriented processes, technologies, and organizational forms to business strategy, and they are unsure of how to translate the goal of making their organizations more intelligent into a strategic course of action. They need a pragmatic, yet theoretically sound model of what I call knowledge strategy. (Zack, 1999, p. 126, italics in original)

The importance of aligning business (B) and knowledge (K) strategies is well recognized (Abou-Zeid, 2008)1. In order to operationalize alignment, these strategies should be grounded in a common foundation from which general definitions or theories can be transformed into elements that can be manipulated, measured, or observed in practical situations. In particular, such a foundation must consider the socio-technical nature of alignment (Tuomi, 2002), i.e., the social and technological context in which alignment takes place, must be considered.

In Part III, I discussed the inherent problems of using the concept of knowledge as a point of departure for operationalizing theories that aim at taking social and cognitive aspects into account. I suggested that the concept of “capability” is more productive for this purpose since capability is something that can be assigned to both human actors and mediational means – the objectivated and objectified aspects of capability respectively. The use of “capabilities” rather than “knowledge” indicates a deliberate intention to include mediational means as inseparable parts of actions. Wertsch (1991) maintains that action and mediational means are so deeply intertwined that it is more appropriate to speak of “individual(s)-acting-with-mediational-means” rather than individual(s) alone when referring to the agent of action. However, since the prevalent literature conceptualizes the B/K strategy alignment in knowledge terms, I will keep this terminology throughout this chapter. The reading of “K” should, according to my perspective, be read “capability” rather than “knowledge”.

The purpose of this chapter is to permeate the alignment area from the ADT perspective. In doing so I will focus on the alignment of B and K strategies, since this can be apprehended as a wider scope than the more tangible alignment of, say B strategies and IT strategies. The reason is that knowledge according to ADT is directly related to the work object of the activity domain. It is in the activity domain that capabilities of both humans and mediational means are enacted, and mediational means are, among other things, ISs and IT. Thus, business strategies and IS/IT cannot be directly aligned since that would “short-cut” the enactment process in the activity domain.

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Definitions

In order not to further confuse the conceptual disarray in alignment from the start, Goldkuhl (2002) provides appropriate advice. He emphasizes the importance of linguistic determinations of terms. In daily “language games”, we do not have to reflect on the meaning of terms as long as their usage results in intended consequences. However, in scientific contexts we need to be more precise. Scientific conceptualization is use of language, and we need to be aware of how we define our concepts:

It is important to see that we use appropriate language forms when we label our concepts. We must be aware that an attribute, even if we use a substantive form, is a property and this means that it is a quality of something and not a separate entity in itself. (Goldkuhl, 2002, p. 9)

In this spirit I, will define some central concepts in alignment as follows.

Business strategy

According to Porter, activities are the basic units of competitive advantage (Porter, 1996). Strategic positioning means “performing different activities from rivals’ or performing similar activities in different ways” (ibid, p. 62, italics in original). From this follows that “strategy is the creation of a unique and valuable position, involving a different set of activities” (ibid, p. 68).

Business strategy has been defined as “the determination of the basic long-term goals and objectives of an enterprise, and the adoption of courses of action and the allocation of resources necessary for carrying out these goals” (Chandler, 1966, p. 16). A business strategy is unique to an organization, sometimes unique in time, and always shaped by the cultural values of the stakeholders, constituencies, the communities the organization serves, and by marketplace considerations (Bishoff & Allen, 2004).

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