Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Building Effective IT Strategy - part 1

Every great endeavor begins with a strategy, well that may be true but was it an idea, a single spoken command, a drawing on a napkin? How do we quantify precisely what Strategy represents?

In military history, Strategy is the highest level of planning - the combination of complex goal-setting and the definition of an over-arching approach designed to achieve said goals. In the American Civil War, A. Lincoln decided early on that the North must cut the Confederacy in two by taking the Mississippi river and to stifle commerce using a massive naval blockade. This strategy was even given a name - the Anaconda Plan. The rest of what happened in the war was mainly tactical in nature - so in the case of the military analogy, Tactics are the detailed actions necessary to fulfill elements of the larger Strategy.

The interesting aspect associated with Tactics is that they tend to be "reusable components." In other words, you develop tactics that can be used regardless of the Strategy of that may employ them. This metaphor translates well from the military analogy over into real-world IT.

Lucky for us, the world of IT isn't much like war except in the sense that there is quite a lot of chaos and a need for planning to manage complex situations. Let's try then to define IT Strategy...

IT Strategy is the ongoing effort to guide organizational exploitation of technology over a multi-year period. It is ongoing because in IT (which is hopefully not the case for war) there is no definitive end-state goal. In other the words, the end state is always moving to right, reflecting the evolution that has already occurred as well as the oncoming waves of newer disruptive technologies.

That's the high level view, but IT has its own unique spin on Strategy which makes it possibly more divergent from the war analogy. In IT there are several distinct types of Strategy; these include:

  1. Product Strategy - Focused (perhaps analogous to a Theater strategy in war)
  2. Portfolio Strategy (otherwise referred to as Capability Strategy) - Comprehensive
  3. Integration / Transformation Strategy - This is not just focused on solution integration - it is the larger question of how to redefine and reconcile an entire portfolio 
Depending on the organization in question, they might require only one or perhaps all of these types of strategy at any given time. A software company (one that is solely focused on one software product let's say) would definitely want to use the first type of Strategy to help define their product roadmap, but might not need the other two. 

So, step 1 is determining what type of Strategy is required. Step 2, regardless of the strategy category is a goal-setting exercise. Step 3 is assigning goals to action. In our next post, we will use a Case Study to look at Steps 2 and 3 in more detail.

Policy in the context of IT Strategy generally represents tactical guidance given on an organizational level - this tends to fall under either Portfolio or Transformation Strategy (or both)

Copyright 2014, Stephen Lahanas



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