Business and IT Alignment in Dutch Vocational Education and Training Organizations

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Information technology (IT) has changed the way organizations manage their business processes, produce their products, deliver their services and communicate with (potential) customers (Brynjolfsson & Hitt, 2000). A key success factor in organizations is therefore an effective and efficient alignment of the way IT supports business strategies and processes. The necessity and desirability of aligning business needs and IT capabilities has been examined in numerous articles (Pyburn, 1983; Reich & Benbasat, 1996; Chan, Huff, Barclay, & Copeland, 1997; Luftman & Brier, 1999; Maes, Rijsenbrij, Truijens, & Goedvolk, 2000; Sabherwal & Chan, 2001) and its importance is well recognized (Cumps, Viaene, Dedene, & Vandenbulcke, 2006). The alignment of business and IT, however, continues to show up as a top concern for business and IT managers (Society of Information Management, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009). Some authors expect that "alignment is even more problematic in the idiosyncratic context of (higher) education" (Albrecht, Bender, Katz, Pirani, Salaway, Sitko, & Voloudakis, 2004). This expectation finds support in Luftman and Kempaiah's study (2007) in 197 organizations, which ranks education as the lowest scoring industry sector on alignment maturity. Given the opportunity that IT offers in teaching and learning (Gilbert, 1994; Geoghegan, 1994), this position should be worrying.

This paper reports a study into business and IT alignment maturity in Dutch secondary vocational education and training organizations. As the role of IT in these organizations is expanding into the instructional applications, the need for cooperation between education and IT department is of growing importance. As part of the professionalization of the information function in these institutions, this study was conducted into the maturity of alignment between the educational organization and the IT department. In order to be able to outline a development path for a growth in maturity, the study both assessed the current or as-is level of alignment, as the desired, to-be level.

The rest of this paper is structured as follows. After a brief introduction into the concept of business and IT alignment and the maturity assessment model, the related literature on alignment in educational institutions will be reviewed. Next, the context of the study will be set, by introducing the vocational and education training sector in the Netherlands and the results of the study will be presented. The paper will conclude by formulating some conclusions and suggestions for follow-up.

BUSINESS AND IT ALIGNMENT

Business and IT Alignment (BIA) can be defined as "Business & IT Alignment is the degree to which the IT applications, infrastructure and organization, the business strategy and processes enables and shapes, as well as the process to realize this." (Silvius, 2007). An influential conceptualization of BIA is that of Henderson and Venkatraman (1993). Their widespread framework of alignment, known as the Strategic Alignment Model (Figure 1), describes BIA along two dimensions. The dimension of strategic fit differentiates between external focus, directed towards the business environment, and internal focus, directed towards administrative structures. The other dimension of functional integration separates business and IT. Altogether, the model defines four domains that have been harmonized in order to achieve alignment. Each of these domains has its constituent components: scope, competencies, governance, infrastructure, processes and skills.

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Despite of the apparent importance of aligning IT and business, the majority of publications is rather vague in terms of how to practice alignment (Maes et al. 2000). A frequently used framework (1) for measuring or developing alignment is Luftman's alignment maturity model (Luftman, 2000). …