How The Workflow Canvas Helps Align IT Strategy With Business Strategy

We first wrote about the canvas-to-software concept in this article. Essentially, a canvas is a template for conceptualizing and describing software, and info from a canvas can be converted into usable software in a low-cost manner. Fetias’ Workflow Canvas, which aids in the development of workflow software, embodies the canvas-to-software concept. All an IT or non-IT manager needs to do is detail this canvas accurately enough, and she will get usable software. This eliminates the need for managers to learn to use multiple software tools as explained in this article, and allows the reimagination of enterprise software development as explained in this article.

The main thesis of this article is by improving communications during the requirements engineering process, the Workflow Canvas we propose helps align IT strategy with business strategy. It is safe to assume that IT managers are more well-versed with IT strategy while non-IT managers know more about business strategy. To better align IT strategy with business strategy, a technique or template which enables deeper communication and understanding between IT managers and non-IT managers will help. We think that using a physical canvas like paper or whiteboard will enhance the participatory design process between IT and non-IT managers. A canvas serves as a shared language between IT and non-IT managers and closes the communication gap between them.

The Workflow Canvas is a significant innovation because it is more than just a technique for conceptualizing and describing software. From info on a canvas which has been detailed, usable software can be generated without much time and effort. Hence, detailing a canvas is time well spent for both IT managers and non-IT managers. A canvas should be accessible to non-IT managers and simple enough for them to use. Using a canvas allows non-IT managers to better visualize the software before it is developed, and allows IT managers to understand business processes better. Using a canvas allows non-IT managers to brainstorm new use cases of software and processes that can be automated, and describe these newly-conceptualized software to IT managers.

One reason IT and business professionals are unable to bridge the gap between themselves is a mutual ignorance of the other group’s body of knowledge. The language chasm between IT managers and non-IT managers prevents IT investments from becoming strategically meaningful. Conversations between IT managers and non-IT managers requires empathy - seeing things from the others’ perspective. A canvas provides a visual template for IT managers and non-IT managers to base their discussions upon, and to see things from the others’ perspective.

Organizations are organized as departments that specialize in different things: marketing, sales, finance, accounting, operations. IT is the backbone that increasingly glues these departments together. If an organization’s IT systems helps its departments do a better job than its archrivals, it can translate into a competitive advantage over its archrivals. Otherwise, IT becomes a handicap. Hence, non-IT managers who are also adapt at IT strategy will be greater assets to their organizations. When a non-IT manager attempts to detail a Workflow Canvas, she will be drawn into thinking and learning about IT strategy.

Non-IT managers need to engage in IT decisions so that they can ensure their departments’ IT tools match their evolving priorities. No matter how brilliant an organization’s market offerings, it is increasingly impossible to execute its business strategy without aligning its IT strategy to it. Without solid execution, strategy is hollow intent. Business-IT alignment flounders when non-IT managers who set business priorities and those who manage IT are disconnected.

IT strategy is a comprehensive plan that outlines how technology should be used to meet an organization’s IT and business goals. Business-IT alignment is the organizational capacity to leverage IT for the success of its business. This means that for an organization to claim that its business and IT strategies are aligned, there must be harmony between them and little or no friction between the decision makers in business departments and the IT department. In line with the canvas-to-software concept, using a canvas reduces this friction.

An organization’s IT portfolio must obsessively focus on how it has chosen to compete. IT strategy is an integrated set of choices that define how an organization will use IT to outperform its archrivals in its chosen strategy to compete. For example, an organization might choose the differentiation strategy rather than being cheaper. For such a business strategy, the focus of IT should then be doing activities differently from its archrivals to deliver something that its customers are willing to pay more for. Business-IT alignment can create a hard-to-copy advantage over an organization’s archrivals. Hence, the use of any technique or template, such as the Workflow Canvas to achieve the business-IT alignment goal should be welcomed.