BIDA: Business-IT-DATA Alignment

Bringing Data Dimension into Business-IT alignment
Executive Brief
This post addresses the most critical yet least concerned aspect, “Data”, of any Business Transformational project. So far lot of attention and research has been done to conceptualize and institutionalize the alignment of Business and IT. But now executives and professionals are waking up to the reality of Data as a critical factor in the success of any IT project. I tried to bring a perspective on the concepts of Business-IT-Data alignment.
BITA - The Definition
BITA as per Wikipedia definition is Business-IT alignment, which is a dynamic state in which a business organization is able to use information technology (IT) effectively to achieve business objectives - typically improved financial performance or marketplace competitiveness. Some definitions focus more on outcomes, i.e. the ability of IT to produce business value.

What and why BITA?
For many years, CIOs, VPs, Directors and the decision makers were baptized to admire and acquire the NIRVANA of perfect business IT alignment. And why not? With rapidly changing business scenarios, the need to use IT for the competitive advantage forced the business users to use IT not as a mere facilitator of running their operations but to use it for making an impact and hence turning that impact into increase the bottom-line figure of their balance sheet. But what exactly is this alignment and why so much buzz all around it? Alignment is nothing, but moving in the same direction at the same pace so as to maintain the balance of the organization’s growth strategy and its execution. But isn’t IT a part of the Business like other functional units HR, Finance, Admin etc. If “yes”, then why there is so much fuss about its alignment with business and why other functions alignment is taken for granted. If “no” then definitely it is required to bring IT in the ambit of overall business. IT, like other functions is definitely an enabler to the business but this is the only enabler that is having disruptive effects on almost all aspects of running a business and it is IT’s widespread impression on each and every function – be it a support function or the core function – that makes IT so crucial in any business. The disruption could propel an organization in either direction – High growth or high laggard. That is why there is so much focus and attention on IT’s alignment with business. There is so much written and researched about BITA that it is now at the peak of the maturity curve. Businesses around the globe understood the power of IT and now all strategy, each mission and every goal devised in the boardroom considers the impact of alignment with IT as well. And this is for the good of the organization itself because they view information technology as an instrument to transform the business rather than considering it as overhead cost. However it is also true that there is still a long distance to be covered before really becoming BITAfied.
Bringing Data Dimension into Play
Still BITAfied: Think again
Now the issue at hand is that when organizations are maturing the way up to BITA curve, there are new challenges thrown from the underlying data in IT systems of the business. Businesses are expecting IT to not only play an enabler but also a differentiator. And how that can be achieved is through the rapid decision making, which can be done only if one is having valid data points. Businesses are no more relying on weekly/monthly reports to decide upon their next course of action. The demand of the time is “Right Now Right Here”. But to get that Right, an organization also needs the Right data. With the surge of IT penetration and increasing reliance on the IT systems, companies are producing data at a speed which was never existed earlier. The surge in the volume of data has brought a new dimension to the business IT alignment and it should be renamed as Business-IT-Data Alignment to have sustainable competitive advantage. In this networked World 2.0, where information is available on the click of a button, it makes business much more cognizant of the right information. We can no longer ignore the most important aspect of any IT implementation which thus far remains focused on only making IT system up and running without paying attention to the underlying data in the system. Business-IT-Data Alignment (BIDA) becomes much more important in today’s scenario as businesses use the power of analytics to define the next course of action. And Data is the fuel of the Analytics engine. If data is not correct/up to date then the probability of relying on the IT system and its underlying data would diminish. And the correct alignment not only brings the effectiveness in the system but also increases the efficiency. BIDA essentially contains 3 arms of a triangle in equilibrium and distorting one arm will dent the prospects of having competitive advantage.

Attaining the Business-IT-Data equilibrium should be in the radar of the business as well as IT early in the game and they should be cognizant of the fact that earlier they start, better would be the chance of the success of the project. Data is the foundation / plumbing for an organization’s information management roadmap. Actionable insights / analytics are only as good as the reliability and integrity of the source data as we all know the principle of “Garbage in, garbage out”. The large business transformation projects and ERP Go-Lives depend on the quality of the data for their success and payoff. Not only that but with a shaky foundation in data, we cannot use and leverage new technologies today (or in the future) like In-memory computing, Predictive Analytics, BIG Data, Mobility, Cloud. Data alignment does not only contain moving data from one or more sources into a target application as is but also is an opportunity for evaluating and improving data quality, which can have a critical impact on a large system rollout as well as on the business itself beyond a Go Live event. BIDA ensures that only the right data is loaded and that all the required data is available and thus eliminate costly overruns from duplicate or inaccurate data.
Who is responsible for DATA and the alignment?
So whose responsibility is the data? Is it Business or is it IT? As per Business users, they require the end to end system which they can use right away after rolling out from the IT. However IT says that their responsibility lies in implementing the IT solution and putting the existing data in the system and it is business user’s responsibility to correct/update the wrong data. And since everybody is so grossly involved in making the IT system up and running that the data alignment slid to the bottom of the priority curve. And here is the biggest mistake. What would a world class system do if it won’t have the right fuel which in this case is the right data? Hence in my opinion, the data should be aligned to make IT system effective and business more efficient. For a company to have a strategic competitive advantage, it must need to act to consider Data as an asset and leverage it to make the decision and set the directions of the company.
Planning for better BIDA
The last mile in the puzzle to better decision making is the right data. Achieving the right Business-IT-Data alignment is to plan it appropriately at the beginning of the project. When we are signing for any business transformational project, we need to plan for the data preparation, standardization, cleansing, de-duplication, and enrichment right at the initial stage. Also what existing data from Legacy system need to be brought in and what not, should be decided at that time to save unnecessary efforts in making the right data available. We need to discover and understand enterprise data by data profiling and metadata management. During the initiation only define business terms, validation rules, cleansing rules, models and the data ownership, accountability and roles. For the ongoing management of data integrity, continuous measurement of data quality metrics and enforcement of standards, existence check prior to create are required to be in place.
In a nutshell the challenges imposed by poor data are likely to show up in all major business areas of an enterprise. Examples include impaired sales, inefficient procurement, hampered go-to-market, flawed business decisions, insufficient risk management etc. No matter how capable an organization’s people may be, if information is difficult to access or locked in silos, management risks flawed decision making leading to debates about accuracy and misaligned actions across the organization. A misinformed workforce leads to wide-spread inefficiencies and an overall under-performing organization. One of the key business intelligence challenges experienced by nearly every business today is the disconnect between the world of making decisions and the world of executing them. So the need for Business-IT-Data alignment has become the necessity of the hour.

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