The Liaison Role: The “Non Strategic” Key to Strategic Alignment

21 Nov

Often when a firm are a attempting to achieve successful strategic alignment, a very high level of interactions between the IT department and business units becomes clearly evident. A study carried out by Brian O’Flaherty of UCC in 2003 identified that the level of interactions in strategic alignment is so high that it is justifiable and beneficial to put a liaison team in place as a type of mediator. He suggests that intermediary roles have a large part to play in facilitating alignment between business and IT units. He also states that it is essential that the person who undertakes the liaison role must be impartial, taking the opinions and concerns of both the IT and business units into equal consideration.

Some of the key findings were that the liaison role facilitates horizontal information flows, it promotes understanding and enforces process. The nature of the interactions between business and IT units is an important element of a company’s competitive success and is a key determinant of success or failure.

Liaison roles are usually set up when the volume of contacts between departments grows. They are formal roles designed to facilitate communication and bypass vertical communication channels (Galbraith, 1977). A lot of their work is carried out through informal communication of information. According to Mintzberg (1983) they have no formal authority or power, but they acquire substantial informal power through their knowledge base. They have informal face-to-face meetings with members of different departments with the objective of relieving some of the priority problems.

O’Flaherty’s case study of Fidelity International Limited, a mutual fund investment company, found that pre-liaison problems encountered included “conflict between business versus IT, inadequate communication, poor understanding, no structure to prioritisation, business without control, increased pressure on systems, time wastage, insufficient requirements determination and employee demoralisation. Conditions subsequent to liaison role included, single channel, promotion of understanding, structure and clarity, removal of some emotion, formalisation of prioritisation process, new frustrations for business, uniform requirements determination, management of expectations, pressure removed from IT units, greater control for the business and barriers remain”.

“I see them as being neutral. I don’t see them as protecting IT or the business, if you like, an honest broker.” Staff Member at FID on the role of liaison workers.

Figure 1. Description and Intensity of Information Flows

Source: http://is2.lse.ac.uk/asp/aspecis/20030108.pdf

By categorising the information flows, using the conceptual model, it is possible to grasp the types of communication between the different sections of the model. Figure 1 shows the intensity of the communication flows is indicated by the thickness of the flow line.

In the case of Fidelity International Limited the liaison role was found to have many positive impacts on the interactions between business and IT. The liaison role is understood to facilitate in the initial stages of communication between both sides. By sitting in the middle the liaison role has a knowledge of the workings of the business and a basic understanding of the technicalities of the IS side. They are building up relationships and facilitating collaboration.

Liaisons were found not to influence strategic decisions, they have no formal power, and they do not make development priority decisions. The researchers argue that a non-strategic liaison role is in fact facilitating strategic alignment.

After much investigation into business-IS strategic alignment, it appears the successful communication between IT and business units may lie in the non-strategic role of a liaison team.

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One Response to “The Liaison Role: The “Non Strategic” Key to Strategic Alignment”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Strategic Alignment: A Summary « So Opinionated … - November 30, 2012

    […] Week 4: In this post we once again refer back to the role of communication in achieving strategic alignment. I carefully analyzed Brian O’Flaherty’s paper where he expresses a belief in the effectives of putting a liaison in place.  His case study showed how the presence of a liaison role in a firm, which acted as an intermediary between IT and business units, enabled all parties to be fully informed and understand the goals and strategies of the company. […]

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