Getting the go-ahead
Modelling the processes
Skilling the business-IT divide
Sidebar: The enterprise that plans together...
Good relationships are of course essential to fixing the business-IT alignment, but technology is also important. And while there are no silver bullets when it comes to enforcing alignment, many organisations are finding the task much easier by utilising technologies such as middleware, which allows companies to set up data exchange conduits between information systems. This free exchange is critical for IT to meet the requirements of business operators, who often request that IT deliver reports and reporting systems that are far more complex for IT to assemble than they appreciate.
Even after years of hard work, and despite the assistance of middleware designed specifically to serve as a universal data translator, integration is hard work. A more recent survey of 87 Australian CIOs and IT managers, by database and middleware vendor InterSystems Corporation, found out just how hard: 51 percent of application integration projects -- crucial in modern IT systems -- were not delivered on time, and 46 percent had not or were not expected to deliver the ROI used to justify them.
If that's hardly reassuring for the business managers funding costly integration projects, worse still are InterSystems' findings that IT executives simply cannot meet the demands of the business within the timeframes they're allocated. Fully 57 percent of respondents said they were able to meet fewer than 40 percent of integration requests from the business on time, while 35 percent of all respondents were unable to meet business-imposed deadlines in 80 percent of integration requests.
As one of the more fundamental yet technically demanding aspects of IT systems, integration effectiveness is a good indicator of overall business-IT alignment because it is essential to sourcing, collating, and reporting on dispersed data to provide business information. Integration can also be a facilitator of change, particularly for companies that use middleware to built an abstraction layer in which business processes can be modelled as rules.
"We're getting a lot of reuse of rules," says Troy Jezewski, development lead for IT services with superannuation administrator VicSuper, which has progressively built up a slew of business rules within its BEA WebLogic integration engine. The system was introduced several years ago as VicSuper looked for a way to improve information controls over system accuracy and integrity, which were problematic in the past because employees previously keyed details of superannuation rollovers directly into core systems with no data validation.
VicSuper now runs three core business systems on top of the WebLogic platform, and all access the same core collection of business process models. "Changing business requirements is a very difficult thing for us, since it's obviously the business' prerogative to change priorities to meet customer needs," Jezewski continues. "Quite often they have very pressing timelines, and we have to adapt what we're doing to meet the deadlines. All of our systems are built on the same level of middleware, which we can use to do checks and balances, and when we have a new project coming in, we just build on the rules that are already there. The design based on middleware has really given us a lot of flexibility, and has meant that we can respond to business change a lot faster."