Why IT Strategic Management is Vital and an entirely different skill set from IT operations.
Information Technology (IT), proliferates almost everything we do. There is almost no industry, job or household that does not have to engage with IT at some point in the day. Yet it is still often seen as a necessary evil rather than a business driver.
In all the years I have been a senior IT manager and consultant, having a unified business and IT strategy is the exception rather than the rule. Why is this?
Well; I think there are lots of reasons but predominantly I think it often comes down to the adage of ‘once bitten twice shy’. IT projects can and do go wrong and often the consequences for the organisation can be massive.
Recovering from a failed IT project is time consuming, expensive and can have an impact on your customers’ confidence in you.
All this is precisely why IT Strategic management is vital and more importantly, why IT must underpin the business goals and objectives. I have for many years been a staunch proponent of IT/Business integration but so often it is used as a necessary tool rather than a business driver.
Small to Mid-size companies often cannot afford the luxury of an IT Director/strategist and rely on the IT manager and the engineering staff to help form the strategy. Strategic IT management and IT delivery are totally separate topics.
You would not take a coach driver and expect him to be able to drive a HGV1 articulated lorry with trailer, granted a good driver will more than likely be able to perform the task but it is an entirely different skill and license set. Yet we often expect technicians to also be our strategists, project managers and source of all information relating to technology.
So why do we need a strategist and what are the strengths and potential pit falls?
10 Strengths of a good IT Strategist
- The strategist does not get embroiled in the day to day workload and can see the big picture.
- The strategist has time to liaise with the business verticals and learn what change is really needed.
- The strategist can translate Business requirements into technical possibility and vice versa.
- The strategist will have a broad knowledge of technical matters but not get embroiled in the detail. More importantly the strategist will be the moderator and if a project is going wrong, they will help make the difficult decisions which technologists often can’t because they are too close to the project.
- The strategist will be able to talk the language of each business centre. Sometime from experience, but often it is underpinned by having completed an MBA.
- The strategist will help drive the business road map and use IT to underpin any business decisions.
- The strategist will explain the cost, the benefits and the return on investment which in IT terms is often not realised immediately and can be intangible in nature.
- The strategist will be looking to make IT not only accountable as a cost centre but more accessible and inclusive to underpin the business.
- The strategist will oversee the negotiations with the myriad of external agencies vying for your business to ensure that the business is getting value from any expenditure.
- The strategist will be looking and planning months, sometimes years ahead but also be flexible enough to adjust to the changing developments in technology.
5 potential pitfalls.
- Senior strategists are often an expensive resource. Getting the right person who understands the corporate culture and can harness the resources is not easy. Getting it wrong can be extremely expensive.
- Often people are promoted from within the company because they know the culture and the organisation. This can work but it can also be a receipt for more of the same as there is no knowledge built up from different experiences.
- Over reliance on the knowledge of the strategist alone, can on occasions lead to large expensive projects that are unnecessary and not fully implemented.
- The IT strategy and business strategy if not clearly aligned can and often leads to confusion, badly implemented projects and more often than not, time and cost overruns.
- Trying to use a technologist to do the strategy is a recipe for things to go wrong. As explained earlier in this article, they are very different disciplines with different skill sets and knowledge requirements.
IT is not going to go away, the Apple IWatch is good example of how technology is proliferating into our main stream everyday lives and IT is only going to continue to become more important. In business terms, it is the companies that embrace this and realise the importance of IT that will ultimately succeed.
Agile companies that understand and can harness technology for the benefit of the organisation will be the differentiators who succeed in their chosen sector. To succeed in these challenging times you need your whole company to understand your goals and objectives and you need your IT to underpin everything you do.