How Can Your Clients ‘Go Dutch’ and Use BiSL® to Align the Business with the Business?

Huh? Business-business alignment? Surely that’s a typo. No, I’m serious. IT people often talk about business-IT alignment but there’s another gap that has to be addressed. The business is not the business. Tweet that!

Just for a moment, please reflect on how often you have been confronted with a situation where the information systems that support a business process, simply aren’t equipped for the task in hand. The last example that I recall was at an airport where the ticketing agent took 25 minutes to get me an upgrade. She was clearly struggling with her application and various pieces of paper with information that she apparently could find in the system. I showed interest in her predicament and she told me that a new system had been introduced. The system looks beautiful she said, but it now takes us five times longer than the old system.

IT or Business Problem?

Let’s analyze the situation. Broadly speaking, there are three possible explanations. Wrong specifications, wrong construction, or wrong use. Wrong construction is clearly a responsibility of the IT department or supplier. But if the users aren’t using the system as intended, or if IT was provided with the wrong specifications, that’s clearly a business problem. And the wrong specification scenario is what I mean with business-business alignment. It’s surprising how often business people who are tasked with providing the specifications for an information system, have a poor understanding of the practicalities of business operations, and therefore specify something that doesn’t work as well as it should. This often leads to the users creating inefficient workarounds, particularly when they have no easy access to somebody who’s responsible for the functionality of the information system. In ‘the basement’, the IT department is oblivious of what is actually going on, assuming that no news is good news.

icon-people_frustated-with-tieAll too often, after the initial development project has been completed, there’s nobody in the permanent organization who is tasked with ensuring that the functionality is both kept up-to-date and used efficiently and effectively. I don’t mean the application maintenance team in the IT department. They depend entirely on what the business tells them. Even when using promising approaches such as Agile, this disconnect is still apparent. I have quizzed several Agile practitioners on this topic and one of their frequent concerns is the ‘quality’ of the product owners who are supposed to represent the business’ interests. Unfortunately, the person who fulfils the role of product owner, is insufficiently in touch with the business department that is going to use the system.

Going Dutch

So what can you do about this? Go Dutch. I’ve had the privilege of working the IT communities around the globe and have noticed that the Dutch have what I regard as an advantage in the way that they organize information system management. They make an organizational distinction between IT management from a supply perspective, and managing demand and use of information and related technology. Supply is the responsibility of the IT function, while demand and use is a business responsibility. Yes, the business plays an active role in steering IT. This ‘movement’ started off in the nineties and is now the accepted way of working in the Netherlands, with a process framework and best practices that describe the approach. BiSL has also been adopted in other geographies, for instance in Japan, where IBM recently applied BiSL in an assignment for NTT Data.


In terms of organizational changes, the business fulfils roles such as a system owner who takes decisions about the information system, a functionality manager who understands both the business needs and the possibilities and limitations of the system, and super users who ensure that the users are actually realizing value by using the system as intended. The degree of formality with which these roles, responsibilities and activities are organized, depends on the characteristics of both the information systems and the organization itself. For example, the way a large conservative financial department manages their accounts payable system, would probably differ greatly – and justifiably so! – from the way THAT a small and dynamic marketing department manages a system that tracks customer satisfaction surveys.

The Business Information Services Library (BiSL®) framework offers guidance in this domain that if usually referred to as ‘business information management’. According to its owner, the not-for-profit ASL BiSL Foundation, BiSL establishes a bridge between IT and business processes. The BiSL process model provides an insight into all of the primary processes within their field of operations and into the relationship between the various processes. It offers a starting point for the improvement of these processes using best practices, amongst other things, and it provides uniform terminology.

Because the BiSL roles are embedded in the actual business—often physically located in business operations departments—there is much less risk of business-business misalignment that fails to give the desired return on investment.

You can help your clients to ensure that they keep their functionality up to date and realize optimal value from their investments by introducing the concepts behind BiSL. A quick scan or self-assessment is the recommended first step. This gives insight into the parts of BiSL that could be adopted.

BiSL is supported by an international ecosystem of ambassadors in 10 countries, and by trainers, consultants, examination institutes and publishers. The owners of frameworks such as COBIT® 5 and ITIL® recognize BiSL as complementary guidance. More information is available at

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Mark Smalley
Mark Smalley is Ambassador-in-Chief at the not-for-profit, vendor-independent ASL BiSL Foundation and is a self-employed IT Management Consultant at Smalley.IT. Mark specializes in Application Lifecycle Management and IT Governance. He is a popular speaker at international conferences, where he has reached out to thousands of IT professionals.