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International Journal of Information Management 25 (2005) 303–319
Understanding the business–IT relationship
Jane CoughlanÃ, Mark Lycett, Robert D. Macredie
School of Information Systems, Computing & Mathematics, Brunel University, Uxbridge UB8 3PH, UK
The relationship between the business and IT departments in the context of the organisation has been
characterised as highly divisive. Contributing problems appear to revolve around the failure to adequately
communicate and understand the required information for the alignment of business and IT strategies and
infrastructures. This study takes a communication-based view on the concept of alignment, in terms of the
relationship between the retail business and IT within a major high street UK bank. A research framework
(PICTURE) is used to provide insight into this relationship and guide the analysis of interviews with 29
individuals on mid-high management level for their thematic content. The paper highlights the lessons that
can be derived from the study of the BIT relationship and how possible improvements could be made.
r 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Alignment; Communication; Information ﬂow; Relationship management
In the current dynamic and demanding global economic climates, the worlds of Business and IT
(BIT) face the constant challenge of keeping apace of the latest developments that would add a
competitive advantage to their organisation. The conditions created by these challenges
necessitate a strong working relationship, as IT undoubtedly now forms an integral part of any
given organisation on which business decisions and strategies are enabled, often at hugely elevated
investment costs (Hinton & Kaye, 1996). However, given the high levels of expenditure for IT, the
beneﬁts for business in these investments are relatively small in comparison (Bird, 1994). As a
ÃCorresponding author. Tel.: +44 01895 265 846; fax: +44 01895 251686.
E-mail address: Jane-Lisa.Coughlan@brunel.ac.uk (J. Coughlan).
0268-4012/$ - see front matter r 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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consequence, the relationship between BIT has suffered and has failed to act synergistically, a
situation that has been commonly depicted in the literature through Henderson and Venkatra-
man’s (1993) dominant concept of ‘alignment’ (e.g., Burn & Szeto, 2000).
However, the alignment concept for understanding the BIT relationship has been judged to be
somewhat misleading by some in suggesting a mere ‘straightening up’ of BIT strategy for example
(see Sauer & Yetton, 1997), when in fact making all parts of the organisation move together (or
align) in the same direction involves creating more crossover links between the disparate parts.
The development of relationships in this fashion has been referred to in the literature as
‘community building’ (see Carr, Folliard, Huang, Kenney, & MacGregor, 1999), and renders the
concept of alignment far more tangible in terms of analysing, understanding and creating the
necessary communication infrastructure and networked relations for information to ﬂow and be
shared around the organisation. However, in any given relationship, interpersonal or commercial,
a common contributory factor to breakdown and failure is poor communication, which has been
shown to directly and adversely affect the integration of BIT strategy within an organisation (see
Tourish & Hargie, 2000).
In characterising a split in the BIT relationship as a communication gap, a primarily
behavioural and socially oriented view is proposed, with communication difﬁculties featuring as a
major determinant (Reich & Benbasat, 2000). Such a view permits a focus on values,
communications and understanding—all of which are important for fostering a strong BIT
relationship. Indeed, the notion of a communication gap has been reﬂected in a body of work that
points towards a more fractured view of the BIT relationship as a clear divide that needs to be
bridged (e.g., Ward & Peppard, 1996; Taylor-Cummings, 1998; Peppard & Ward, 1999; Peppard,
2001). Moreover, recent industrial reports by the Gartner Group (LeVasseur, 2002, 2003) reveal
that while problems in communication are nothing new, the large volume of published research
consistently points towards the recurrent nature to these problems, which attests both to their
lasting importance and how they feature as a major cause of concern for both researchers and
practitioners. This is both in terms of analysing the communication problem itself, identifying the
problematic aspects, and producing practical solutions in overcoming these difﬁculties within the
context of the BIT relationship.
2. Examining the business–IT relationship: The importance of communication
In placing the emphasis on the BIT relationship, this work is concentrated in the domain of
organisational infrastructure and its associated characteristics, which Luftman (1996) has
identiﬁed as one of the four major domains, along with IT infrastructure, business strategy and IT
strategy that inﬂuence the way that a relationship between BIT is formed. Given this relational
context, one important driver for creating commitment to a relationship and collaboration with
other diverse members of the organisation has been identiﬁed as communication (Te’eni, 2001).
Indeed, in terms of conferring strategic advantage, communication-based organisations, which
encourage cross-functional interactions, tend to be more successful with regard to operations and
business dealings both internally and externally (Tucker, Meyer, & Westerman, 1996; Grifﬁth,
2002). Although poor communication and collaboration tends to be the norm between, for
example, IT specialists and (ﬁnancial) product managers (see Vermeulen & Dankbaar, 2002).
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In dealing with communication problems, current management strategies have attempted
alignment through designated programmes called ‘Relationship Management’ (RM). This
paradigm seems to be especially prevalent in the banking industry (see Eriksson & Mattsson,
2002), where it is seen as being exceptionally useful in ameliorating the problems between the IT
function and the rest of the business as a way of ‘marketing’ perceptions about IT (e.g.,
Hirschheim, Porra, & Todd, 2001). The establishment of the role of the relationship manager is
becoming more commonplace and has been created (in the organisation under study) to combat
problems caused by a BIT divide by providing both an understanding of the technology side and
the business interests that they are meant to serve. Despite the fact that the establishment of a
speciﬁc relationship manager’s post bestows a distinctive status upon the individual, and holds
particular implications for the BIT relationship, RM strategies have been given scant attention in
the literature (but see Iacono, Subramani, & Henderson, 1995). However, it is not the purpose of
this paper to debate the merit of a RM programme per se, but to take up the concept of
‘relationship’, which has proliferated in this area, and in the guise of alignment and employ it as
the unit of analysis to target a study on BIT communication.
Few studies have explicitly looked at communication within the BIT relationship, although it
features as an important, but implicit element in studies that have presented various models and
frameworks of the BIT relationship cast in at least four different ways. For example, Peppard
and Ward (1999) looked at BIT relationships in terms of the broad structure of organisations and
discovered a high performing organisation is characterised as housing BIT units that see
themselves as part of an equal partnership based on a strong foundation of communication. Asif
and Sargeant (2000) examined relationships on the small group level and how the nature and
quality of the interdependencies between work groups can be enhanced for more effective
communication outcomes in UK banks. Tukiainen (2001) shifted the emphasis onto individuals
and members’ meanings of organisational communication, and that planning an agenda for
communication can increase satisfaction of communication experiences. Finally, Al-Karaghouli,
Alshawi, and Fitzgerald (2002) focused directly on the BIT relationship but taking a quantitative
view in terms of the amount of knowledge shared, and how the mismatch in knowledge
between BIT manifests itself as misunderstandings (or gaps), which can be illustrated graphically,
using set theory.
Given the above analysis it would seem fruitful to look speciﬁcally at the BIT relationship and
particularly at communication, as it touches upon many other organisational aspects that have an
impact upon IT, such as culture for example (Curry & Moore, 2003). In terms of social theoretical
perspectives that have adopted to explain the complexity between organisational and IT
infrastructure, Structuration theory (Giddens, 1984) and Actor Network Theory (ANT) (Latour,
1987) have emerged within the IS domain as tools of analysis. However, given the fact that
communication problems tend to recur, upcoming studies are urged to move beyond analysis in
providing guidance to practitioners to remedying some of the problems that have proven
persistent. Indeed, as Rose (1998) has pointed out, it is precisely because of the lack of
prescription in structuration theory and ANT that its impact in IS has been slight. In the rare
instances where attempts have been made to make ANT, for example, more applied (e.g.,
Dunning-Lewis & Johnson, 2004) there has been a distinct ‘pick and mix’ approach in dealing
with its concepts and make it more operational, which suggests that much of the theory needs a
great deal of adaptation in order to have real-world relevance.
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The present study’s perspective on the cyclical nature of the communication process, which will
be presented in Section 2.1, does ﬁt with some of the ideas of structuration theory in that agency has
an affect on structure, that is communicative acts have an effect on a relationship; however,
structuration theory does not seem to explain why some structures are successful in an organisation
and some fail, merely that social actions lead to deﬁned structures, which limits any practical impact
(Rose, 1998). In basing the research upon a communication model (see Section 2.1), this work seeks
to explicitly map the connections between organisational issues to the way they relate to IT.
Moreover, this work recognises the on-going social–technical negotiations in organisational life
from which properties of the technology emerge, whereas ANT, for example, proposes a lack of
embodiment to such negotiations in advocating that actors are also networks, so that the emphasis
on agency, and communicative acts, for example, is devalued (e.g., Mutch, 2002).
2.1. PICTURE—a research framework
In contrast to a purely analytical perspective, this work attempts to provide a more practical
and structured way of categorising communication issues in organisations. In this vein, the work
presented here is based upon Shannon and Weaver’s (1949) classic model of communication,
comprising six elements which include the following: information source, transmitter, channel,
receiver, destination, and noise, and which underpin most quality perspectives of the
communication process. This communication model has been developed into a broad four-
dimensional research framework—PICTURE—used to guide the current investigation. The
framework was originally devised to study communication where the outcome was aimed at
requirements elicitation—hence the RE of the acronym PICTURE—in order to improve the
design of IT systems (Coughlan, Lycett, & Macredie, 2003). The study reported here focuses on
another outcome of communication—relationship establishment—where the same four dimen-
sions are used to frame the analysis given the fact that they reﬂect core communication
components (e.g., information source etc.).
Therefore, the acronym PICTURE makes reference to both the four dimensions of the
framework and its area of applicability (in this case relationship establishment as opposed to
requirements elicitation) and can be described thus: (1) Participation and selection; (2)
Interaction; (3) Communication activities; (4) Techniques; Used for Relationship Establishment.
Fig. 1 provides a graphical representation of PICTURE, which illustrates the four dimensions and
how they relate to Shannon and Weaver’s (1949) components that are crucial for communication.
Fig. 1 illustrates the circular nature of communication, in terms of the feedback mechanisms in
place which is not considered by Shannon and Weaver (1949), but which naturally occur in real-
life information exchanges. The noise component of communication is not represented on the
ﬁgure, as it is semantic in nature and reﬂects the context of communication, in this case retail
banking. The beneﬁt of developing the framework has been in guiding the analysis for identifying
the areas that require attention when building relationships and avoiding breakdowns. In
addition, the four dimensions also reﬂect the real-life manifestations of the components of
communication, which can brieﬂy be described as follows:
1. Participation and selection—A person or group can act as both the information source and
destination of a message, so knowing, understanding and even choosing appropriate
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Fig. 1. PICTURE—A research framework.
stakeholders or BIT representatives and the interfaces within and between divisional
departments need to be clear for communication to ﬂow freely.
2. Interaction—Messages are not just sent but are transmitted. This suggests that messages are
encoded, which occurs as an interaction between a number of mediating factors that inﬂuence
the delivery of the message. For instance, culture and politics in an organisation are clear
examples of these.
3. Communication activities—As messages are encoded, they must therefore be decoded to be
received correctly. The receiver must therefore engage in certain activities to break down the
message for mutual understanding. For example, negotiation is an example of such an activity.
4. Techniques—Communication occurs through different channels or media in order to convey
the messages that are being transmitted. For example, meetings are an example of a popular
technique for disseminating information.
Despite the development of the PICTURE framework, it should be stressed that it is not
employed as a precise measurement tool for providing prescriptive advice. More rather, it is used
to direct investigation to areas that affect communication in organisations and provide the basis
for exploratory investigation of the issues involved both within these areas and how different
facets of the communication process interact in real life. The results of this could be applied more
prescriptively in future work, given the complexity involved in communicating, which can be
summarised thus: senders of messages can also be receivers, so, for example, the sender of a
message will be affected by their efforts to communicate and the factors surrounding the situation
in which communication occurs, which will then inﬂuence one outcome of communicating (e.g.,
establishing a relationship), which in turn will feed back into the way that the messages are sent.
Therefore, it is suggested that a direct focus on the process of communication is necessary and
from which interpretations of the BIT relationship emerge and are realised in certain contexts, in
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this case retail banking, particularly within a company referred to—for reasons of conﬁdenti-
3. FinCo: Organisational background
FinCo is a major high street UK bank, with a customer base of over 15 million people. FinCo
proved a useful case to study for two main reasons. Firstly, as is typical for a ﬁnancial services
provider, FinCo’s uptake of IT has been rapidly extensive and closely integrated into the
organisation in supporting key information management processes such as decision-making and
the delivery of customer services and so features as a crucial variable in organisational
performance (Dewett & Jones, 2001). However, this paper will place emphasis on characteristics
of the organisational infrastructure, in this instance the BIT relationship, rather than on the IT
directly, as the ways in which these elements impact upon IT to achieve desired organisational
outcomes is less well understood (Pollalis, 2003). Secondly, FinCo was shifting to a relationship-
oriented view of the organisation through instigation of a RM programme as a means of
facilitating BIT communication, which implies that a study of relationships would be most
beneﬁcial to this organisation and others adopting RM. The particular areas of the organisation
under scrutiny—retail BIT—are described next.
3.1. The structure of retail BIT
As part of its banking structure, FinCo has three main divisions (with each containing different
business units) in retail, wholesale, and wealth management and long-term savings. In addition,
the company also has one (recently integrated) IT division, which incorporates most of the IT
departments and enables the company to perform their business by providing and maintaining the
technology and infrastructure for present and future market ventures. Internally, however, FinCo
has followed the UK and US tendency to separate BIT activities, implicitly creating a ‘barrier’, or
divide between them (Smith & Fingar, 2002). In considering the divide, the focus of the study was
directed at two key areas of the organisation: (i) retail banking and (ii) IT. Retail banking was
speciﬁcally chosen as some research suggests that it is here that organisational divisions appear
more pronounced (e.g., Koloszyc, 1998) and because it is the biggest ‘customer’ of the IT part of
the organisation. Consequently, this ‘barrier’ has emerged as an area of organisational concern
owing to its perceived negative effects on organisational dialogue and communication. The two
areas of business (retail) and IT are now described.
1. Business—Retail banking covers services ranging from current accounts through to credit
cards, buying and selling shares to sending money overseas. The retail business division is
comprised of different and often competitive units catering, for example, customer service,
retail sales and information management, and is relatively distributed. All of the different retail
business units, although relatively separate from one another are considered collectively as part
of a general change programme (or ‘transformation’), emphasising delivering change rather
than (technical) capability in terms of optimising resources and delivery of beneﬁts, which are
constantly measured internally and against competitors’ standards.
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2. IT—The IT division is comprised of units catering for solutions delivery, infrastructure and
architectures and support, for example, but is relatively (and recently) centralised. In contrast
to the organisational structure of the retail bank, the IT units are more disconnected from one
another through separation of a ‘silo’ structure to the organisation where departments are
divided into separate lanes, as it were, and where adjacent lanes do not necessarily have as
much contact and communication as might be expected.
4. Research method
The approach to this study can be described as interpretative—an approach commonly
favoured by communication researchers (see Neher, 1997), where FinCo’s communication issues
were investigated within the context of the BIT relationship, the beneﬁt of which is two-fold: (1)
studying a single case provides concrete insight into a complex process such as communication
(Grant, 2003); and (2) interpretivism affords an in-depth look at a dynamic process such as
communication in terms of the shared meanings and experiences of people (e.g., Walsham, 1996).
These are interpreted from the perspectives of the individuals involved, given that multiple
realities exist in this organisation which have formed two very distinct spheres of existence (BIT),
socially constructed by the participants themselves through their respective communication
experiences (see Guba & Lincoln, 1988). Therefore, this study sought to present a balanced view
of the BIT relationship by establishing the perceptions of both sides, an approach that has been
stated by Wilcoxson and Chatham (2004), for example, as being noticeably rare within the
Data were collected by way of semi-structured interviews. A set of speciﬁc questions was
prepared and designed to probe for experiences, thoughts and opinions relating to perceptions of
the BIT relationship (see Appendix A). However, the questions were not directly related to
dimensions of the PICTURE framework. Rather, they were posed to understand the background
to communication, the intent for enhancing the BIT relationship and perceptions of the RM
solution option. The questions were asked in a natural conversational order and extra questions
were asked of respondents in pursuit of clariﬁcation or further avenues of relevant enquiry. In
total, 29 (hour long) interviews were conducted with individuals from both retail banking (n ¼ 12)
and IT (n ¼ 17). The interviewees covered the spectrum of top-level management (Director, Head
and Manager of departments) for both retail banking and IT.
Noteworthy is the position of ‘Head’, which was a new title given to individuals as part of
organisational restructuring which was underway at the time of the interviews. The ‘Head’
position is considered as part of a tiered directorate and so is above manager level and denotes
organisational efforts to promote certain departments and improve communication. For example,
there was a ‘Head of Customer Service’ in the sample and a ‘Head of RM’ (which denotes the
initiation of a RM programme). Individuals beneath management level were to be interviewed in
the next phase of the study, which was outside the time frame for the work presented here.
However, the collection of data from at least three different levels within the organisation permits
the elicitation of multiple viewpoints from individuals within the same departmental division to be
contrasted across divisions so as to identify the themes that represent common or conﬂicting
issues for both BIT.
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5. Data analysis: Theme identiﬁcation
Data analysis took the form of a thematic content analysis of the transcribed interview material
(see Mostyn, 1985), which looked to identify a number of themes, to contribute to a qualitative
account of communication within the BIT relationship. A thematic analysis of this kind (see also
Sahay & Robey, 1996; Dube & Robey, 1999; Longmate, Lynch, & Barber, 2000) is highly
appropriate to the present study as the themes that are identiﬁed provide an illuminating narrative
on the state of communication practices within this organisation. The themes were generated by
following a systematic and manual coding procedure, which was carried out in three clear steps:
(1) specifying the unit of analysis—utilising the complete concept of a respondent’s utterance,
typically ranging from a few words to an entire paragraph to which codes were attached; (2) code
attachment—labelling ‘chunks’ of data, which represent the theme or primary message of the
section of text; and (3) theme categorisation—grouping the individual themes (with guidance from
the research framework) to produce the broad categories to which these themes relate to and can
be reported on collectively.
Thus, nine broad themes were identiﬁed in total. The ensuing Sections (5.1–5.9) revolve around
discussion of each individual theme supported by narrative descriptions. This is typically verbatim
extracts from the transcripts, delivered from the point of view of ﬁrstly the retail business, but
balanced with a view from IT in order to compare and contrast perceptions of communication
from two key areas of the organisation.
5.1. Theme 1: Business/IT experience
A lack of business/IT experience was a distinct problem within this organisation though it was
accepted as the norm. As far as the business could see, the main difﬁculty revolved around, what
was consistently described as ‘‘the right people for the job’’ (Director, Retail Finance), though it
was generally accepted that there was little scope for IT to increase resources in terms of recruiting
people with sufﬁcient experience. IT personnel also recognised that the ability to allocate the right
people to the job was seriously debilitated and added to this was the problem that business
requirements often exceed the resources available. Interestingly enough, considering the amount
of criticism levelled at IT from business, IT in fact agreed with the business on the issue of
business/IT experience. IT also recognised that there was a need that the ‘‘right people should take
lead roles according to specialisms’’ (Director, Group Technology Services). Also, that there was a
call for ‘‘hybrid skills’’ (Manager, Group Project Management), as the boundaries between BIT
were very unclear.
5.2. Theme 2: Organisational structure
The organisational structure was very particular in this organisation and was not very
conducive to create a team culture, as it provided a separation of BIT activities, effectively
constructing the divide in the ﬁrst place. The nature of the organisational structure was in the
form of ‘‘silos’’ for both Retail and IT. Not only that, but these silos were hierarchical in that
‘‘problems have to go to the top to get sorted’’ (Director, Retail programme). Also, as the business
observed, the ‘‘silos’’ in IT were very ‘‘product related and expertise [was] concentrated in a small
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group of individuals’’ (Head of Customer Service). Overall, business identiﬁed that there were
‘‘distinct cultures’’ between IT and retail in particular (Director, Retail Customer Service).
IT personnel reafﬁrmed the silo structure of the organisation as a whole and furthermore that
Retail’s structure seemed to ‘‘support layers of responsibility’’ (Director, Group Technology
Architectures and Support). This, as far as members from the IT group could see, acted as a
barrier to a successful mixing of BIT concerns. Another point that was made concerning structure
was in terms of the working timetable. IT pointed out that Retail works on the traditional 9–5
schedule, whereas IT tends to operate on long (up to 20-h) days. The difference in working
patterns explained instances of where Retail demanded delivery of solutions within a speciﬁed
time frame that IT could not hope to accommodate, either because of the complexity of the task
that Retail had not anticipated, or because IT were busy meeting other competing deadlines.
5.3. Theme 3: Location of IT division
The physical location of the IT division in isolation from the Retail division was symbolic of the
general estrangement in working relationships. The image that the business had of IT was that
‘‘IT people don’t move around, they just sit in X’’ (Managing Director, Retail Finance) and they
have different agendas and ‘‘just want to be told what needs to be done’’ (Manager, Group
Development). These views reinforce the reactive rather than proactive nature of IT and their
unwillingness to align IT functions with the rest of the business. From IT’s perspective, they felt
that they had almost been removed from the rest of business to be placed within the conﬁnes of
one building, although many in IT voiced the idea that ‘‘co-location should be encouraged’’
(Manager, Data Centre Operation). This illustrates that there is a desire for co-operation on
behalf of IT and that their physical separation only encourages misunderstandings and a bad
feeling among the business that IT is only concerned with the technology it delivers and not to
whom it delivers.
5.4. Theme 4: Business and IT camps
The theme of BIT camps related to the identity that BIT held about each other. From the
business perspective, they were quick to establish that there was a ‘them and us’ type of attitude.
The business saw that IT very much distanced itself from the business. One manager from the
Information Management Programme said that on several occasions they would hear the IT
phrase ‘‘the business wants this’’. Their argument, supported by many others, was that IT are the
business, as much as other parts of the organisation, as they depend on each other to meet
customer needs and demands. Of course a lack of focus on customer contact shows that IT is not
united with the business regarding the same objectives (see also Section 5.8). Even harsher
criticism was that IT displayed a lack of a ‘‘one team attitude’’ (Manager Director, Retail
Banking). Such was the strength of feeling on this issue, that it was felt by some that IT only
identify with their own particular group and do not see themselves as part of the organisation as a
whole, just more of an add-on.
IT similarly recognised that there was a lack of a ‘‘one team culture’’ with the business
(Manager, Retail Channel and Operations Development). Although, IT felt that part of the
reason was that it was perceived that business had an extremely limited view of IT as simply a
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business support function. Looking at the responses of some individuals that attested to the
importance of IT in helping to drive the business as a whole, it was clear that this ‘one team’
attitude was not upheld across the organisation. A possible reason for this was the lack of
alignment in terms of reward structure between the two groups. While business members would
often receive rewards for meeting deadlines or cost-cutting, IT’s performance when exceeding
expectations failed to be recognised and this lent weight to the perception that IT in general was
undervalued and that their efforts were subordinate to those of business, who reaped the ultimate
5.5. Theme 5: Clarity and understanding
The most commonly noted feature of business–IT interactions was that people’s roles seemed
unclear to both groups. Many of the business directors admitted that they just did not know who
to talk to in the IT department and what certain people or departments could offer them. This was
a perception which business attributed to IT as well, evidenced when the IT division introduced
passwords on a system, but failed to recognise the appropriate people within business with whom
they should co-operate. On a par with business, IT also found that pinpointing the appropriate
business people with whom to communicate on problematic issues was ‘‘extremely poor especially
regarding system breakdown’’ (Manager, Data Centre Operation). This is evidently a situation
that requires immediate rectiﬁcation as a long delay could dissatisfy customers and cause ﬁnancial
5.6. Theme 6: Gaps in understanding
Gaps in understanding of either the business or IT was a prevalent theme in the transcripts
revolving around people keeping abreast of the ‘big picture’. What was made apparent from the
business perspective was that there was an overwhelming need for BIT to share the same
objectives. However, the reasons for this not being forthcoming were ﬁrmly placed at the door of
IT personnel. A typical comment was that ‘‘IT needs to understand the needs and constraints of
business’’ (Head of RM, Lending). This suggested that IT did not identify with the business in any
way, which would ‘‘open the doors to understanding’’, as one director of Partner Relationships
described it. Indeed, the main complaint from business seemed to be IT’s blatant disregard for
business matters, where the delivery of technology has many implications for business which need
to be focused on in IT projects. The main reason for this was that ‘‘IT is too compartmentalised’’
(Director, Retail Finance) and that they do not try to talk to business people in a language that
they understand. For instance, there were many occasions on which business people signed off
documents from IT, despite the fact that they often did not know what they meant. Overall, the
main area of criticism was that ‘‘IT provides a reactive response to requirements’’ (Director,
Retail Programme), when in reality more closeness is required with business in order to share
While the criticism levelled at IT was strong, IT was its own harshest critic, as they upheld
everything that was said about them by business. The reactivity of IT’s actions was conﬁrmed by
an array of IT personnel. It seemed to stem largely from the fact that they have ‘‘little knowledge
of business requirements and objectives’’ (Manager, Group Development) and even less
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appreciation of the impacts of IT on the business, which meant that they were in fact ‘‘missing the
whole picture’’ (Director, Retail Customer Risk and Decisioning). However, a criticism of the
business was on the subject of their ‘‘naivetyyon how requirements ﬁt with IT timescales and
affect costs’’ (Systems Manager). This shows that business are also missing the ‘big picture’,
though their lack of appreciation of IT is not made as much of an issue as IT’s ignorance in
certain business areas.
5.7. Theme 7: Information exchange
This theme refers to the fact that it was felt from the business perspective that there was a lack
of information exchange, owing to a shortage of communication channels within the organisation.
As one director from Retail Banking pointed out, ‘‘communication with lower levels of [the]
organisation is important but rare’’. Communication between the business and IT was
characterised as lacking in dialogue, by being very one-sided as the business seemed to view IT
as being very closed and lacking input into processes. As a manager from the Information
Management Programme described, there are ‘‘no system ideas or input from IT that would
provide applications to the business area’’. While IT’s input was perceived as minimal, it was also
the case that little cross-fertilisation of knowledge was encouraged between business and IT.
Indeed, a Managing Director from Retail Banking complained that they were ‘‘rarely asked to
talk at IT conferences’’ which might have been symptomatic of the fact that IT had a ‘‘tendency to
not talk to people in the know’’, with IT preferring to ‘‘reinvent the wheel’’ (Director, Retail
Programme). Evidently, this is a time-consuming activity and highly obstructive, though it is
perhaps an indication of the different cultures of the two groups, which many interviewees
commented on and which served to perpetuate many of the communication problems that were
experienced. However, probably the most damning complaint voiced by some of the business
personnel was that there was, as one director of Retail Finance described, ‘‘a dearth of
information to indicate why projects fail to start on time, etc.’’. This suggests that history is
repeating itself in this ﬁrm, with costly consequences especially in communication terms.
Interestingly enough, the IT perspective on this theme was similar to that of business in its
critique of their approach to IT problems. IT saw that somewhere along the line there appeared to
be a bottleneck in the channels of communication; as one manager of Customer Systems put it:
‘‘messages to business don’t get through or are confused’’. Conversely, there was a ‘‘lack of
information coming back from the business’’ (Manager, Service Introduction), which would
evidently cause a lot of problems. However, despite their troublesome nature, these problems
afford opportunities for discussion of a concrete issue to diagnose the nature of the difﬁculty,
though this was not the case in the experiences from IT. Indeed, the common situation was that
‘‘system problems were ﬁxed without discussion of issues with the business’’, which was
symptomatic of the ‘‘limited channels for discussing problems’’ (Director, Solutions Delivery).
Much of the reticence on behalf of IT to engage in a dialogue with the business, stems in some way
from the fact that they have ‘‘difﬁculty in articulating problems to the business’’ (Systems
Manager). Generally, the conversion of IT language to business speak was taken care of by the
service managers, though this situation proved less than satisfactory. Another complaint from IT
was that business did not seem to understand the implications of some of their technical requests.
The business often gave poor notice on demands that continually changed, though this may also
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be a reﬂection of the fact that IT failed to understand the dynamic nature of business.
A lack of open communication channels between the two groups does not allow for an efﬁcient
exchange of information, which would inform decision-making to the mutual satisfaction of
5.8. Theme 8: Customer contact
While the focus of this analysis is on the internal nature of communications in terms of the
business–IT divide, much mention was made of the contact with the customer or, as the business
personnel more colloquially put it, contact with ‘the man on the street’. In terms of the
communication of requirements, this outside entity is an important one when considering the BIT
divide. The generation of both business and IT requirements stemmed from having a customer to
deliver to and whose requirements had to be met, although this service could be hindered by a BIT
divide. Indeed, it was felt by the business that the ﬂaw in IT’s working practices was that they did
not realise that they were in fact working for a customer. The idea of the customer was more
tangible for the business, especially for the retail side, as their whole existence is predicated on the
fact that they have someone to sell a service to in the ﬁrst place. This theme supports the one of
‘information exchange’ (in Section 5.7), as it is clear that if IT distances itself from the business,
then they are too far removed from the customer to be aware of the technological impacts of the
systems that they have the responsibility for implementing.
From the IT perspective, there was little acknowledgement of the ‘man on the street’, though a
few managers admitted that IT generally ignored the customer. One instance of this can be seen in
the case of the systems failing in branches. One IT manager admitted that this would be treated as
a purely technical problem, whereas in fact it is an urgent customer (or human) problem. This
belies the fact that IT tend to operate from a very machine-oriented perspective looking at the
system purely in terms of hardware and software and not from a more integrated perspective of
system, people and context. However, despite this somewhat closed view, IT managers did say
that they in fact received ‘‘little feedback on the customer experience’’. This implies that they may
require assistance and constant reafﬁrmation that they are in fact delivering to business and
ultimately to a customer. The fact that the service IT performs is not necessarily well-received
needs to be addressed.
5.9. Theme 9: Meetings
In this organisation, there was no prescribed schedule for meetings between business and IT.
One director (Retail Banking) described the process for gathering people for a meeting as totally
‘‘ad hoc’’, where it felt as if the people at the meeting had been located through a random ﬂick
through the internal telephone directory (which was actually the case in some instances).
Therefore, the people at the meeting were not chosen with any particular criteria in mind (apart
from having an entry in the phone book). In general, the complaint was that there were ‘‘not
enough forums for talking’’ (Director, Retail Finance). What tended to be the case was that
business-only forums or IT (systems)-only forums did not allow for enough interactivity to take
place, which in turn limited the representation of each community and the scope for increased
understanding through debate and the exchange of ideas, however disparate. IT also highlighted
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the fact that, aside from regular formal meetings, there was a severe lack of ‘‘mixing and talking
with people generally’’ (Manager, Supply Management). The general infrequency of meetings
served to maintain the divide between the BIT and to perpetuate the belief that these two groups
were more different than similar.
The thematic ﬁndings of this study hold interesting implications for this organisation in terms
of both the type and quality of the BIT relationship. The themes reveal that the model of
interaction that FinCo subscribes to can be characterised as ‘Business-dominated’ (see Gordon &
Gordon, 2000). This immediately spotlights that information does not ﬂow around the
organisation in the most optimal fashion, as the source, channelling and receipt of information
is focused too much on the retail business side of operations which neglects IT counterparts.
FinCo’s attempt to introduce a RM programme to maintain the BIT relationship is a positive
start to cope with the problems that are manifest within this particular organisation. However,
without any clear analysis or understanding as to the nature of the presenting BIT relationship
problems, there can only be misgivings about the potential success of RM in this context, but a
valuable lesson to other organisations that attempt to build effective working relations and open
up communication channels.
Adopting a relationship-oriented approach to study organisational communication is becoming
more common place (see Schwarz & Hirschheim, 2003) who cite many beneﬁts in moving beyond
the study of static alignment models to the dynamic way in which relationships are formed and
managed as these are ultimately what sustain and develop any organisation. A close look at
relationships is proﬁtable in identifying its different dimensions, for example the actors, resources
and activities together with environmental conditions that make relationships work successfully
(e.g., Maes, Rijsenbrij, Truijens, & Goedvolk, 2000). The themes that have been identiﬁed in this
work provide a route-map of where key problem areas lie and can be used positively to build new
assessment tools or improve existing ones that feature communication as an important component
for bringing BIT closer together (e.g., Luftman, 2003). Thus, the lessons that can be learnt from this
study for the improvement of the BIT relationship can be extrapolated as follows:
1. Implement explicit mechanisms (as a result of a communication study/audit) to allow for a
mutual understanding to be created between business and IT and their respective areas of
operations. Merely inserting another organisational layer such as a RM level is more likely to
exacerbate than ameliorate problems.
2. Show that IT is a tool for achieving business goals and not just an add-on function. The lack of
clear communication in FinCo is connected to the culture of the organisation itself, which if is
highly divisive as this study has documented then it will seriously impair the formation of
strong business partnerships (e.g., Brier, 1999).
3. Couple BIT together early on in the relationship process. Buy-in from all parties concerned
needs to be secured from the outset so as to enable the commitment of stakeholders to grow.
Transforming and opening up an organisation’s communication channels is time intensive, but
the long-term beneﬁts far exceed the effort spent.
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Generally speaking, relationships are extremely important but are also seriously misunderstood
by practitioners and understudied in most research projects. This is a major oversight; as in many
ways the state of relationships within an organisation (particularly BIT) can act as a barometer
for the communication effectiveness of the organisation as a whole, given that the BIT
relationship is pivotal to the organisation’s success. Communication is embedded in many
organisational processes and so the BIT relationship becomes an extremely useful and powerful
lens for the study of organisations and how they realistically perform. This study, however,
focused on the BIT relationship at a basic level, in the sense that internal communications within
BIT departments were not analysed, nor levels below management. Future analysis could provide
a clearer and more comprehensive view of the state of communication and either develop or create
frameworks such as PICTURE to move towards practical investigation and recommendation to
manage relations between BIT.
The challenges of the BIT relationship functioning in large (and multinational) organisations
are huge, particularly in terms of maintaining the balance of communication across organisational
boundaries. The task of communicating information cannot be made the sole responsibility of
one individual such as a relationship manager or even a designated communications depart-
ment. More rather, this study advances the view that the key to communicate effectively is
‘seeing the big picture’. The BIT parts of a company desperately need to work together as part
of an equal partnership and communicate together in such a way that the organisation can
simultaneously recognise group specialties and expertise, whilst presenting a united front.
However, the key to success of such endeavours require an in-depth understanding of the
BIT relationship and the communication practices within an organisation in order to either
provide a tailorable solution to the existing problems, or enhance the effectiveness of any ‘RM’
Appendix A. Interview schedule
Section A: Background/general
1.Can you describe your department’s primary role(s) and responsibilities within the organisation?
2.Which other functional units/departments does your department interact with to fulﬁl these roles
PROMPT: How important is the relationship with IT and in what ways?
3.Please describe typical scenarios of interaction with business/IT units, highlighting any
particularly good or bad examples?
PROMPT: Purpose, effectiveness, formalities, frequency, communication channels?
Section B: Intent for enhancing business–IT relationship
4.Given your knowledge of business/IT strategy/direction, how do you see your relation with
business/IT units changing/transforming in the future?
PROMPT: Optimism or pessimism and why?
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5.If you were granted three wishes to improve the relationship between BIT units, what changes would
you like to see within your relationships?
PROMPT: Expectations, intent to collaborate and requests?
6.What could you do to facilitate these changes and what could others to do to facilitate these changes?
Section C: RM solution option
7.What do you understand by the term ‘RM’ and its role?
8.In what ways do you think ‘RM’ can/cannot improve the relationship between the BIT?
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Jane Coughlan is a Research Fellow in the School of Information Systems and Computing and Mathematics at Brunel
University. She holds a B.A. in Psychology, M.Res. in Informatics (both from Manchester University) and a Ph.D. in
Information Systems (Brunel University). Her research interests include the facilitation of communication and the
exchange of information and stakeholder requirements in various contexts. These range from the interpersonal, through
computer mediation, to organisational and company-wide communication scenarios.
Mark Lycett has a B.Sc. in Computing and Business Management (Oxford Brookes), a M.Sc. in Information Systems
(Brunel University) and a Ph.D. in Information Systems (Brunel University). Prior to returning to education, Dr. Lycett
spent a number of years in industry and he has both worked on and managed a number of national and international
business change/development projects. His research concentrates on all aspects of organisational and information
systems development and he has a number of publications in these areas.
Robert D. Macredie is a Professor and the Head of School of Information Systems and Computing and Mathematics at
Brunel University. He has over 10 years of research experience, and has worked with a range of organisations from
large, blue-chip companies, through small businesses, to government agencies. Educated at the University of Hull (B.Sc.
and Ph.D.), his key interest lies in the way in which people and organisations use technology and has published over 150
research contributions in this area.