We have seen wave after wave of technical innovation hit the technology market place over the past decades. Picking the IT trends that will impact your company; selecting the ones to ignore and the ones to surf ahead on early is an art that makes or breaks companies. The “bricks to clicks” revolution that started in 2000 is still hitting companies today and those that lagged behind are slowly dying. In this blog I want to highlight some things that your company may need to consider and understand the impact of right now.
From a business perspective the saying “if it is not broken don’t fix it” is often applied to IT systems. Finding the investment to keep up with the market can be a challenge, and it is often tempting to just avoid any efforts or costs of an upgrade. Even on our mobile phones we all fear that notification that a new version is available and hit the upgrade button with trepidation; not knowing if the app will successfully install or worse, the whole phone dies. When applied in the business enterprise that trepidation translates into an inertia to upgrade that can become a massive penalty down the line as the gap to the latest version opens up. This gets worse as the enterprise gets larger and the decision making more centralised.
Following on from my previous blog post, I am going to relate a rather extreme story of what happens when you fail to keep up with the IT market place, fail to update your software and keep your IT portfolio current. This is a real story that occurred in a bank.
Many years ago a financial sector organisation had installed and successfully used a piece of software for supporting controls and management reporting. The software had initially been developed by a group of programmers in a smaller independent company, it was successful and was adopted by perhaps 30 or more institutions.
On our cibsys website we have been writing about the challenges of governing your IT portfolio – http://www.cibsys.com/index.php/ten-questions-to-ask-your-it-department/. When thinking about this sort of thing it is also worth considering how your organisation responds to the external market place and the sometimes radical trends that come at organisations. Out there in the sea of the real world there are millions of ideas surfacing every day; these ideas coalesce into waves that can batter an organisation. Increasingly we have seen waves of disruptive technology hit businesses and there is now a blur between business strategy and IT/technical strategy, so much so that the two become more and more intertwined. Each organisation needs to have a process for watching the sea of IT technology and trends (and the same in the wider market place) and decide which waves it needs to catch.
In my last blog entry I was discussing how to include an understanding of your suppliers into your strategy. A key tool to assess effectiveness of systems and the services around them is to construct a service scorecard to rank IT priorities.
Start by getting your top IT objectives together and extract those of the most critical priority; make sure these align to the wider business objectives. For example if your firm has an objective “Reach more international customers” as a top priority, maybe critical service objectives aligned to this could be: “Strong multilingual support services” or “24 hour global support availability”. If your organisation is promoting product development and new products as a high priority then service adaptability and ability to adjust to new markets might be important.
These are provocative questions but relevant in so many places in IT and business. Many of of us hearing the terms capability maturity measurement (CMM) will immediately switch off, but please keep reading, I promise not to be as boring as the average CMM survey in this blog entry!
We have seen these methods applied across many business and IT processes in recent years. For a while every organisation wanted to be CMM rated to the top level 5 in all sorts of areas – disaster and business continuity planning, development processes, data management, IT security and many others. Just recently I have seen the latest offerings in supplier and vendor management approached in the same way. For a time every senior manager pushed by consultancies was jumping on the bandwagon of assessment. One can wonder how many initiatives in this area have now been assigned to the archives or are gathering dust somewhere. Having said this, I don’t believe that the need has gone away even if the latest fashions have moved on to other areas.
We have discussed extensively on this blog the selection of solutions and their alignment to business processes, but an aspect of IT strategy that must not be overlooked is the consideration of suppliers and the active management of vendors to fit the strategy.
In the same way that we have looked at systems and application solutions and how well they are aligned to business objectives, it is important to include in your strategy decisions a review of the vendors involved and how they are aligned to the performance and service objectives that you require.
One of the main problems with those facing change within their IT structure is the lack of commitment to a great IT strategy. Simply put, unless you follow through and commit to your strategy, it will never get done.
Going into companies as a IT consultancy, I have seen all sorts of manifestations of this – mainly in a reluctance to let go of old systems. The task of assessing old servers kept in broom cupboards, personal databases operating outside of the main corporate framework, through to racks of servers in data centres still running ancient hardware is often a daunting one. It is likely that nobody knows exactly what is where and how accurate data can be extracted.
That is an intense headline but it is true. So why you might ask am I wasting my time blogging about IT strategy if no one is interested!? Because of course they are interested, indirectly. The article The best IT strategy is no IT strategy makes the point eloquently.
Business people want business strategy – any IT strategy must therefore be set in the context of the overall objectives for the organisation; ignore the headline business requirements at your peril. There is no point writing lots of detail about technical solutions and the wonderful next best technical thing if that is not going to contribute to the bottom line of the business. The CEO needs solutions to help him beat the competition, push up profit and deliver a higher return. Even cost is often secondary to driving up revenue.
In the final stage of the process you should be looking at defining your roadmap and multi-year plan. i.e. how you plan to move forward with your IT strategy in the future. This blog completes the steps recommended for an effective IT strategy.
With an idea of the target vision for the IT systems and services the final step to a comprehensive strategy is to define the steps and to implement it. It is not just sufficient to say what changes will be made but also to define how the services will evolve to improve costs, provide a costs benefit against business targets and how service levels will be adjusted. Ideally at each step behaviour changes in the organisation and changes to process flows will be needed too.