Planning information systems with Business Functions

Senior managers of enterprises frequently complain about the lack of alignment between corporate strategic plans and the strategic planning of information systems. This lack of alignment is the single greatest irritant at corporate board level when information system development funding is being sought. Such alignment should form the very first objective of information system strategic planning.

The Business Functions can be used to make an objective assessment of the adequacy of current information system support of the enterprise strategic goals and objectives. The Business Functions can be used effectively as the integrating tool between corporate strategic planning and information system strategic planning. The goal of strategic information systems planning is to develop strategies to ensure that the information technology function and infrastructure are aligned with and support the business to enable it to achieve its business mission, objectives and goals.

The use of critical success factors (CSFs) can be the linkage key in this alignment. Each business goal or objective has a number of CSFs that can be related to functions. Those functions that map to CSFs are then prioritized as the most critical functions. Information technology solutions in turn can be mapped to those prioritized functions that are supported.

These matrices will show how each business CSF is related to the enterprise's goals, objectives and mission, how well the information technology goals are aligned with the enterprise's CSFs, and how well information technology CSFs are aligned with their own goals and objectives.

An important element in strategic information systems planning is an assessment of current information technology within the enterprise. This can be done by developing matrices of current information systems with respect to generic functions, CSFs, goals and objectives of the enterprise. Any prioritized functions that are not supported by IT indicate gaps that should be filled by technology solutions. This will allow prioritization of new developments or identify requirements for reengineering existing systems.

Another element of strategic information systems planning is the identification of improved integration within applications. Matrices can be used to cluster generic functions and data that interact frequently with one another, thus indicating the potential for integrated applications.

Matrices also play an important role in the tactical planning phase of Business Area Analysis (BAA). They can be used to articulate and document the objectives and scope of a BAA. They can also be a communications vehicle between business and information technology participants during the scoping of the BAAs.

It should be remembered that productivity improvements and quality improvements in the Information Engineering (IE) methodologies are long-term rather than short-term and are not measurable until design, construction and maintenance phases are realized. The detailed definition, consistency checks and issue resolution occurring in the analysis phase of IE methodologies will undoubtedly add to the required time and effort but will result in a greatly improved requirements definition. The distribution of time and costs shifts dramatically to the early stages of the development lifecycle. Nevertheless this is the time in a project when quality, rigor and detail are least expensive to address, and the effort will reap great rewards later in better designed solutions.

The end result of this shift of effort in the development lifecycle is the substantial benefit for designers to address the business issues and priorities, abstracting from technical considerations, and thus aligning the objectives of the business users and the information system designers.