INFORMATION SYSTEMS STRATEGY
ANSWERS TO CASE STUDY
Case Study 13.1: Agile development can make business quick and light
What do the differences between the traditional waterfall model and agile development methods suggest about their respective applicability to the strategic alignment of business and IS/IT strategies?
Students are expected to focus on the following:
Agile software development can prevent organisations becoming locked into yesterday’s ideas and business strategies.’ It might be suggested that since projects based around the waterfall model can take longer (sometimes much longer) before any software is actually implemented, the business needs then may have moved on. However, agile methods that focus on the frequent delivery of software products allow the system to evolve and meet changing business needs.
Since it is claimed that ‘rigid specifications and inflexible development techniques can lock organisations into yesterday’s ideas and also inhibit commercial evolution’, then the link between software development methodologies and strategic alignment is clear: monolithic and rigid methods can lead to a mismatch between what the business needs and the information systems that are developed.
The link is summarised on the article thus: ‘with agile development, the final product can be quite different from that originally planned. But it tends to be more aligned with the business’ needs at the time of completion – rather than its needs at the start, which may now be outdated’.
MANCOSA – BCom ITM Year 2 129 ANSWERS TO DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1. ‘The millennium bug has demonstrated that organisations, more often than not, take a short-term view in their approach to information systems rather than a strategic one.’ Discuss.
Students should concentrate on applications software rather than other issues such as processor chips.
They can centre their discussion around the following points:
Some legacy systems in current use can date back to their original development at least two decades ago; the writers of these systems never envisaged that the software would still be running 20 or more years later. This suggests that the software falls at least into the ‘support’ or even the
‘key operational’ categories.
The legacy systems referred to above were built at a time when memory and disk space constraints were severe and developers took every possible step to reduce storage space for data and programs. It has been argued that running applications with full eight-digit dates would have been prohibitively expensive, thus putting off systems development and fixing these systems is less than the benefits that have accrued over the life of the system.
There is evidence that systems developed as recently as 6 or 7 years ago were not millennium compliant. It is much harder to argue the storage and memory costs issue here. Recently developed systems that use six-figure dates, therefore, do suggest that shorttermism exists.
The failure of many companies to get up to speed with their millennium compliance activities also suggests that a degree of complacency exists (especially for those businesses with a turnover of between £1 and 50 million). Also, it is suggested that some public sector organisations are leaving things to the last minute. Both of these points suggests that, again, too many people are not taking the problem sufficiently seriously and are concentrating on short-term objectives.
MANCOSA – BCom ITM Year 2 130 2. ‘The barriers relating to the relationship between business and IS/IT strategies mean that successful alignment is likely to be the exception rather than the rule.’ Discuss.
In this discussion, I would expect students to focus on the alignment model produced by Weill and Broadbent along with their identification of expression barriers, specification barriers and implementation barriers.
While the model and barriers are clear, what remains an issue is whether successful alignment is the norm, or something relatively rare. As is often the case in this situation, the answer probably lies somewhere in between. What could be useful as a discussion activity is to discuss each of the three barriers identified by Weill and Broadbent and for the students to identify how they think each of the barriers might be overcome.
ANSWER TO EXAMINATION QUESTION
1. Explain the concept of Porter’s value chain and how it can be used to identify a company’s information needs.
Value chain analysis allows the functional areas of an organisation to be analysed logically and systematically. Each primary and secondary function can be analysed in terms of its critical success factors, decisions that are needed and information required to support the decision-making processes.
It is also possible to look at how business processes are linked across functional areas and the information systems that are needed to make this possible.
2. How can McFarlan’s strategic grid be used to define an information systems strategy for a company?
This model looks at the relationship between an organisation’s current and possible future IS and their contribution or potential contribution to the business.
Applications are classified as follows:
• Support – these applications are valuable to the organisation but not critical to its success.
MANCOSA – BCom ITM Year 2 131
• Key operational – the organisation currently depends on these applications for success.
• High potential – these applications may be important to the future success of the organisation.
• Strategic – applications that are critical to sustaining future business strategy.
The model is useful because it allows the current applications portfolio to be analysed according to where the applications fit. It may also suggest where future development work should be concentrated.
Finally, candidates for outsourcing may be selected (e.g. applications in the support category).
3. Explain the difference between a business-impacting and business-aligning approach to a company’s IS strategy. Give examples of strategy tools that can help support each method.
Business-impacting techniques seek to analyse the business to see how IS/IT can be used to benefit the business. These include the following:
• Competitive forces analysis.
• Competitive strategies (in response to the business’ external environment).
• Value chain analysis.
It is also suggested that any techniques used as part of a business process re-engineering (BPR) exercise apply as well. Business-aligning techniques seek to base the IS/IT strategy on the organisation’s existing business strategy. These include the following:
• Critical success factors analysis.
• Business systems planning (including information engineering).
MANCOSA – BCom ITM Year 2 132