With the recent new release of Strategy4IT I was discussing with colleagues whether you can scientifically optimise an IT portfolio. I think any high level IT manager will tell you that their job is more an art form than a scientific exercise! What we have done with Strategy4IT is to try and formalise the method towards IT portfolio optimisation rather than automate the strategic directions to be chosen (the scientific part of strategy, if you like). We felt that the tool is not intended to make the decision – the artistic part – but to facilitate the process and structuring of information to allow that decision making.
What has become clear over many years of consulting and management is that decisions based on well structured and succinct information are better than those based on either masses of detailed information (where it is easy to get lost in the detail) , or on pure gut feeling with no information.
I am sure every boss has been in the position of having to make a judgement call on a difficult topic with either so much information it is impossible to digest, or (and it it amounts to the same) little or no information. If put on the spot if I had to choose between the two I think that decisions based on gut feel with no information are better – at least there has not been wasted time gathering reams of detail only for it to be too hard to understand and ignored. I am not advocating rash decisions but I hate to see good information ignored because it is badly structured and presented.
Many, many firms hire consultants to help them to optimise their IT portfolio, I know – after all I run a consultancy. The good consultants bring with them a bag of tricks to collect data, massage it and then tell the firm what they should (but do not) already know. The structured approach to gathering the data is the trick that you pay them for and the way they make their money. This is the science part of strategy. Structuring information, gathering statistics or key performance indicators, looking for misalignment, outliers and hot areas is the heart of understanding the possibilities The art part of the process is then coming up with the possible ways forward, the options to change alignment or readjust. Of course consultants can tell you how to run your business but the art is in using the scientifically acquired information to make the decisions where to go.
With Strategy4IT we have tried to distil into the product years of experience of gathering data for clients, rationalising it and structuring it. The techniques we have crafted into the tool try to follow the way managers actually manage businesses and align the output to the different views that are needed for strategic decision making. The diagrams we use support the key debates that run in most organisations – cost versus complexity, long term lock in versus short term flexibility, standard versus free-for-all, central versus de-central, regional versus head office, etc. Our aim was to put the entire IT department and landscape on a simple set of diagrams – no plumbing, no spaghetti – just easily digested pictures that even the least IT literate board member or decision maker can interpret. We cannot automate the strategic decisions, but at least the tool can save companies a fortune in the cost of getting the data to make the decisions, and even more money by preventing bad ones based on gut feeling or badly structured information.
So science or art? Strategy is both – scientific data gathering followed by artistic interpenetration to decide the way forward.