IT Strategist's Dilemma - Page 1

Jan 2, 2007

Sourabh Hajela

Simply put, every strategist, including the CIO, is faced with the “stay-the-course” or “cut-and-run” choice at least once in their career. Usually, it is many more times than one!

The strategist’s, in this case, the IT Strategist’s dilemma is: "Should I do as planned or change the plan?"

In answering this question, there is the risk of prematurely and incorrectly changing a strategic plan that would have worked. There is also an acknowledgement that a carefully crafted strategic plan did not stand the test of time, i.e. somehow, somewhere the CIO failed.

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Is this the right conclusion to draw? I don’t agree.

No matter how hard you try, the unexpected will happen. In today’s dynamic business environment, the only constant is change. Economies and industries change. Disruptive technologies appear on the horizon. Competitors change or they change tactics. Internal capabilities change. The list is endless.

These unanticipated changes are not a sign of failure of your plan. But they do require a response. That is where the strength or weakness of a plan is tested.

So what do you do when faced with change? Do you continue with the playbook? Do you punt? Do you modify the playbook?

The simple answer is to be flexible. This agility often determines the success or failure of an IT strategy. But this is easier said than done. Agility depends on three key things. Let us look at each and see how.

Monitor your environment. Continuously and diligently, so you are not blindsided by change.

I would bet that most leaders know this. But I am equally confident that IT organizations (ITO) operating as cost centers do not monitor their environment. They do not have a well defined process or champion for business changes that affect IT.

Consequently, they are continuously reacting to these changes. Ironically, this focus on cost management has the exact opposite effect because reaction is often more expensive than a carefully planned response.

IT organizations task the CTO with monitoring and managing change. However, CTOs often focus on technology changes — new applications and hardware — not business changes. Often, their role is advisory, therefore lacking the authority to affect change in an ITO.

On the business side, there are usually teams monitoring changes in the business' environment. However, often, these teams do not have the skills to assess the impact of these business drivers on technology.

This situation is exacerbated by a lack of well defined processes for collaboration between business and IT. Hence, the proverbial dots are not connected until it is too late.

This was never a good situation. It is even worse now with the increase in pace of change and competition. Thanks to advances in IT, information is delivered in real time to its users — where they are and when they want it. Now, one must not only connect the dots but also connect them before their competitors do.

To succeed in this fast paced business climate, business and IT must collaborate on monitoring and responding to three key categories of changes:

  • Environment – Changes in the economy, regulation, industry, etc. that can have an impact on your organization.
  • Technology – Improvement in current technology or introduction of new technology that can alter the effectiveness or efficiency of your organization.
  • Internal competencies – Changes in skills, processes or intellectual capital that can give the organization competitive advantage or vice versa.
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