Managing IT During Periods of Rapid Growth

By Allen Bernard

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For rapidly growing companies, staying involved in the day to day workings of the company, it's strategy, and goals, is more important than at larger, more established firms, according to the Cutter Consortium.

"The time horizon of rapidly-growing organizations is often measured in months if not weeks; the time horizon of the IT function, on the other hand, can involve years, said Cutter Consortium Senior Consultant Kenneth Rau.

"The resulting schism caused by this time perspective disparity can lead to frustration and financial loss for the business and its venture capitalists at a minimum, and, in severe cases, to the business risks of competitive disadvantage, loss of market share, and financial insolvency."

While aimed at smaller, more dynamic firms some techniques will also prove useful to CIOs at any company, regardless of size, said Rau.

"Some of the things are absolutely true for anybody," he said. "I mean keeping involved in what is going on in your company in terms of strategy is always good advice."

For those CIOs dealing with rapid growth, four techniques may prove helpful:

Go agile. In periods of rapid growth of the organization, agile techniques are mandatory, not an alternative. Maintaining agility not only during design, but in what is delivered, is paramount. Be modular, avoid tightly integrated solutions, go with best-of-breed, and incorporate service-oriented architecture principles, if not the whole enchilada.

Focus on inclusion. Ensuring IT is included in everything that has to do with setting and changing business strategy and direction is key in these situations.

In small, rapidly growing situations, strategy-setting is seldom formal, but it is rampant and pervasive. As the CIO, you must be involved early and often in setting business strategy and direction, where your role is to advise on what is technologically possible.

This means both in terms of limitations, but more importantly, in terms of what is possible. Remember, strategy and direction in these situations is mostly informal. Fortunately, full emersion in the informal strategic planning stuff in rapidly growing concerns is often more easily accomplished than in more mature, stable ones.

Realign IT strategic objectives. In rapidly growing organizations, IT has a tendency to set objectives in a bottom-up fashion for expediency's sake. Low-level managers in the IT function set their objectives and these are then rolled up to become the IT function's objectives.

In rapid growth, emphasis must instead be placed on assuring enterprise awareness, responsiveness, and flexibility as had been stated. The CIO should set goals consistent with the understood parent organization's direction, and then cascade these goals down into the IT organization's objective-setting process.

The IT organization can then respond with appropriate plans for achieving these goals or define what is not possible. In the latter case, alerted to a gap, management can then decide to modify its goals for IT, for the enterprise, or look for creative alternatives.

Initiate scenario-based strategic planning in IT. Because of its long lead times, IT must attempt to anticipate the future information system needs of their parent organization in order to define and launch the appropriate programs and projects.

Scenario-based planning constructs multiple possible views of the future, and then identifies how to respond to each view. In IT, scenario-based planning can be used to establish principles for application construction or acquisition, hardware configuration, network architecture, and organization structuring that can adapt to multiple possible futures.