Strategic Information Systems Planning or SISP: Aligning IT and IS to the Business

Section 1:  How to deploy SISP

To deploy SISP into any firm and make it successful we need to use a methodology.  A good approach is the model by Wilkin and Cerpa (2012), which is based on an iterative SISP approach first developed by Segars et al (1998).  This SISP methodology is supported as being relevant in real-world implementations as given in studies from Corbitt et al (2008) and Kandjani (2014).  The literature seems to suggest that the Wilkin-Cerpa-Segars model or Information Systems Planning (ISP), which defines a SISP implementation, is the most effective method to align IS with the Business (Corbitt et al, 2008; Kandjani, 2014).

Section 1.1: ISP Phases

The main elements of the ISP to deploy SISP are the following:

Phase 1: Alignment – IS and the business strategy are integrated to facilitate IT/IS development and systems build, which supports the competitive requirements of the organization;

Phase 2: Analysis – The organization’s internal operations (e.g. procedures, processes, and technologies) in both IT and the Business are properly understood to ensure that IT supports the general organisational business-flows;

Phase 3: Cooperation – Key SISP stakeholder’s cooperatively support IS strategy and SISP, decreasing potential conflict and set up governance policies to resolve conflicts;

Phase 4: Improvement – IS/IT capabilities in planning and implementation (e.g. by learning, feedback, formal and informal communication processes) are expanded and deepened;

Phase 5: Contribution –IT’s contribution to the Business is assessed using telemetry and concrete metrics (e.g. speed to market, availability, security, profitability from new products, cost decrease etc).

(Adapted from Segars and Grover, 1999)

Firms should use the above phases but importantly these phases are not linear but iterative. For example, phase 1 and phase 2 would likely be done concomitantly, with phases 4 and 5 can also be conducted in parallel if not even earlier, given that measuring IT performance is a key governance and organisational objective.

Section 1.2: Implementing the ISP

To ensure success from the ISP model in 1.1, Table 1 presents methods of ISP implementation, including Key Success Factors which we can find at many firms.

Table 1:  SISP implementation ISP Phase buy a heart lyrics Implementation Key Success Factor Why and How
Alignment 1.       Clear business strategy which is understood

2.       IT reporting to the CEO not the CFO

3.       CTO to help CIO control IT and establish a strong ‘core’ along with decentralised operations (to allow innovation)


-Pre-requisite when planning the alignment of IT with the Business, CIO should report to the CEO, and there should be a strong CTO to manage IT details and operations
Analysis 4.       Competent and committed management, both in IT and outside

5.       Planning regularity


-Competent management must be in place to both manage IT Operations and help with the alignment planning and setting up of governance structures and innovation plans

-Business owners should be embedded within IT processes to align IT to the business requirements

Cooperation 6.       End user involvement in mapping IS to the business

7.       Cultural openness across functions (and cultural barriers to change)


-Competent IT management will hire/contract skilled staff to aid in alignment planning and processes

-Business personnel will be involved early, in the SISP process

-Culture, especially one that is open, innovative and based on merit is vital for innovative firms and can be accomplished through cross-functional teams, incentives and having employees understand the SISP

Improvement 8.       Planning effectiveness (methodology, relevancy)

9.       Technical resources, knowledge and skills

10.   Project Management skills


-SISP must be a regular, transparent, process

-IT projects must demonstrate success and value

-Project Management is a key area where many IT projects fail

Contribution 11.   Budget, Financial resources, Proper ROI management


-IT should be responsible for not only costs, but revenue increase and could be either a profit centre, or a hybrid structure
Learning Iterative Iterative, cycle back to phase 1 during next planning cycle

(Brown, 2010; Wilkin & Cerpa, 2012).

Note that the above for any firms should be an on-going process. For the ISP phases in 1.1 to succeed, there has to be an iterative implementation approach, especially since a SISP approach will change the organisation (into cross functional teams); and the culture (no silos, open, innovative) (Read, 2017).  Section 2 discusses these challenges.

Section 2:  Organisation, Culture and Governance issues

As given in section 1, SISP implementation will change IT from being a silo and cost centre, into being part of the business.  This will challenge existing ‘empires’ within a firm, and force the Business to use IT as an asset, and not view IT as simply a cost item.  SISP also demands extremely competent C suite management and very good IT operations management.  Tables 2 and 3 present cultural and organisational issues, and their attendant governance implications; which were and still are in some cases present, within many firms as they attempt to deploy a SISP.

Table 2:  Cultural issues when implementing a SISP

Area Issue Governance implication
Business does not understand IT Business views IT as slow, legacy-ridden, operationally incompetent Many firms do not pay off ‘legacy IT debt’ and refuse to upgrade, improve or maintain key systems
IT does not understand the Business IT is not a part of the business process and does not understand how IT should support the business IT was a silo, a cost centre and viewed as an expense item
IT culture is insular, operationally focused Divorced from the business, IT views non-IT processes as unimportant IT was focused on maintaining the systems at the lower possible cost, not aiding competitive advantage
Culture does not reward innovation Seniority, tenure are more important that performance or innovation Static, negative culture
Business Culture is not open Business empires did not cooperate with IT or other business silos Empire building was more important than business results


Table 3:  Organisational issues when implementing a SISP

Area Issue Governance Implication
CIO must be skilled and competent Former CIOs had little power or skills CIO must report to CEO and have real power over budget and resources
CEO must support the CIO CEOs did not view IT as important C suite conflict will ensure that SISP will fail
Financing IT innovation – who should be responsible, accountable IT was a cost centre and deemed a necessary evil Within SISP, IT must be viewed as an asset
CTO or a strong centre is needed to push through SISP changes Operational excellence and control did not exist Implementing SISP is difficult if the centre is weak
IT Operations must now deliver to the business and view the business as a ‘client’ IT ops was a silo affair and did not report to the business IT should be viewed as an enabler of business excellence
Cross functional teams need to be set up Silos prevented cross functional engagement Breaking down cultural silo barriers is a longer-term endeavour
Business must be embedded within IT projects Projects were silo affairs Business owners need to ensure that IT delivers business requirements and value
Organisational transparency is a threat No transparency on IT effectiveness or project performance Openness needs to be rewarded and recognized
Fear of Job loss, or redundancy due to transparency, improved efficiency Open systems and processes were not supported Deadwood needs to be removed to have a functioning SISP

(Above compiled from: De Haes, Van Grembergen, 2009; Boonstra, 2013, Kappos & Rivard, 2008)

The above cultural and organisational challenges are real and potent.  One reason why SISP should be a longer-term, iterative venture, is that breaking down these barriers and establishing an open, innovative culture, along with proper governance and organisational processes, takes time, money and managerial skill.  In reality, there are many conflicts intra-organisation and between roles, personalities and stakeholder interests which will need to be reconciled or ended, including the use of fiat directives from the CIO (Read, 2017).

Section 3: Strategies to overcome Organisation, Culture and Governance issues

Section 2 outlined some potent challenges when implementing SISP within firms.  To overcome these challenges, SISP becomes a longer-term iterative process. To break down these barriers in culture, organisation and governance, the following key principles can be followed:

  1. Formalisation: Written structures, procedures, policies and techniques in SISP planning.
  2. Focus: Proper balance between control and innovation and the use of finite resources.
  3. Flow: Both a top-down (leadership) and a bottoms-up (buy in from users and stakeholders) flow needs to be enacted.
  4. Participation: Depth and cross-functional breadth of input across the organisation.
  5. Consistency: Frequency of planning and meetings (Segars et al 1998, Wilkin and Cerpa, 2012).

The above governance principles will embed IT into the Business planning process, and will be based on proving IT’s value to the business.  Metrics and KPI’s are a part of the above process and would include:

  • -System availability being 99.99% or better
  • -System mapping to the business processes and responsiveness
  • -Applications which are mapped to the business process and fitness for business usage
  • -Security – data protection and other legal-compliance standards being met
  • -Time to market with improved application features
  • -Disaster Recovery implemented (currently there isn’t a DR plan)

(Read CIO Interviews, 2016-17)

Table 4 summarises the key principles and metrics by issue-area, of culture, organisational and governance.

Table 4: Breaking down obstacles to SISP

Implementation within the ISP approach Implemented Key Principle being followed
IT reports to CEO Implemented Flow
Competent IT management New CIO, CTO and new hires in IT operations Focus, Flow
Clear business strategy understood by IT IT is now driving strategy Comprehensiveness, Formalisation
End user involvement with IT products and systems build IT has cross functional teams aligning processes and plans Flow, Participation
Cultural openness in IT and the general business to innovation New culture is one of agility, transparency, skills Flow, Participation
IT Planning regularity with the business Implemented, monthly, quarterly, yearly Frequency
Planning effectiveness On-going, including setting up governance structures Frequency, Flow, Focus
Technical resources are competent, trusted Proving value to the business is increasing trust Comprehensiveness
IT can demonstrate to the business owners its value Demonstrations, Proof of Concepts now a part of IT planning and implementation Flow, Comprehensiveness
Budget, Financial resources IT is a profit centre and must contain costs while helping to increase revenues its budget is thus not viewed only as an expense but as a value to the business Comprehensiveness, Formalisation, Frequency
Metrics IT is being assessed by the business for utility and externally audited for reliability Formalisation, Focus

(Lederer, A.L., Sethi, V. 1996; Wilkin, C. L. & Cerpa, N. 2012; Bechor et al 2010, Read 2017)

Table 3 presents a high-level summary of how to break down cultural-organisational and governance barriers.  Within a SISP process IT is reorganised.  In the case of many firms IT is moving over time to become a profit centre, metrics are implemented to assure its efficacy, and planning processes are now combined with the business processes.  Governance and communication boards are cross-functional and the business is beginning to view IT as a service, not a cost item.

Section 4:  Conclusion

The purpose of this note was to discuss the SISP methodology employed by many firms and how barriers to SISP implementation can be overcome.  Overcoming cultural, organisational and governance challenges is a long-term effort and requires constant attention and iteration.  It will take many years to achieve the open, innovative culture that these firms desire.  ==END


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