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A strategy for strategy: Figuring out how to figure out what IT should do next

Thornton May | Sept. 3, 2014
Though nearly all modern enterprises are well managed, a sadly large proportion lack a real IT strategy. That equates to going nowhere with great efficiency.

Gartner fellow Bruce Rogow's observations indicate that, in many organizations, IT strategic planning has been downsized -- not just in time and resources invested but also in the nature of the questions it seeks to ask and answer. Every year, Rogow undertakes what he calls the Odyssey, visiting some 120 CIOs. The data he has collected during the Odyssey indicates that, in the past two years, less than 10% of the IT executives interviewed have really thought about what IT needs to do next. Those few have actually commissioned a real, new IT strategy, gone off site with their people, and then taken six months to work both top-down and bottom-up. The rest, Rogow says, are doing Whack-a-Mole. Though nearly all modern enterprises are well managed, a sadly large proportion lack a real IT strategy. That equates to going nowhere with great efficiency.

But what constitutes a real IT strategy? Roger Martin, author (with A.G. Lafley at P&G) of Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works, thinks of strategy as the intersection of two critical dimensions: where you will play, and how you will win there. Strategy above all is about choosing to do some things and not others.

Regrettably, far too few IT organizations that think of strategy at all are pondering Strategy, with a big "S." Big "S" Strategy asks questions like "What do we want to be?" and "How do we create competitive advantage?" Most IT strategy now focuses on little "S" questions such as "How do we do what we are currently doing cheaper, better, faster?"

This strikes me as remarkable. For years, IT has been deeply involved in the evolution of analytics, business intelligence and big data, and at this point just about every executive working in a modern, complex and global enterprise knows that there is value in information. IT are better positioned than most to see this and should recognize that their organizations can make invaluable strategic contributions.

In subsequent posts I will share insights from enterprises whose IT strategy delivers real value.

 

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