4 Ways to Make Your Business IT More Strategic
ICT has often been considered in the same way as other support functions and not considered when making strategic decisions about the future of the business. That is not a good thing since IT can have a profound effect, positive or negative, on the business.
Over the last few years that has been graphically brought into focus where changes in the technology landscape have dramatically changed many businesses, forcing them into drastic changes.
Why have some businesses flourished and other failed or come close to failure? Flourishing businesses use IT as a strategic enabler within their business and see Business IT Support as a potential profit centre, not as a cost centre. Laggards and failures see IT as an operational department and exclude IT and Business IT Support from their strategic planning process.
Here are 4 ways in which Business IT can move to become a strategic enabler in your business.
Align Business and IT Strategy
How to do this is a thorny issue among many business and ICT leaders. Despite many hours of analysis, report writing and deep thought the answer is still not clear. The fundamental question seems to be whether to align with customer needs or business needs.
One the one hand, the business exists to serve customers, and business IT must, therefore, align itself with what they perceive as customer requirements. On the other, many consider that anticipating and meeting customer needs is a fundamental part of developing a business strategy and that the IT component will naturally follow when those strategic needs are articulated.
In short, if ICT is to be an enabler of business strategy it must be aligned with it. Whether it is proactive, taking customer expectations and translating them into an ICT strategy, or reactive, taking business strategy and creating an ICT strategy to support it doesn’t really matter. What is important is that there is an ICT Strategy that supports business objectives.
IT Leadership and the Strategic Planning Process
Currently, in many organisations the ICT Leader carries out low-level ICT tasks, and often non-ICT tasks on behalf of other departments, in short working at an operational level. If the ICT Leader is to fully participate in Business Development, then that level must change to become a strategic one. Gartner stated in a recent review of the role and function of the decision-making process in Tertiary Education organisations:
“…The ability to sit on the President’s Cabinet, executive committee or whatever the top policy forum is called is far more important, in that this seat allows the top ICT leader to actively engage in institutional-level discussions about strategic directions and policy and to work with other senior officers in understanding the role that ICT can play in the various functional areas on campus…”
While this comment is directed at Tertiary Institutions, it is equally valid in business. The ICT Leader must operate at the most senior levels in the organisation and be recognised as a key player in Business Strategy Development
Keeping up with Trends and the Competition
The ICT environment is a very fluid environment. Technology changes are frequent, and as we have seen with the advent of the Internet and the mobile generation, can drive fundamental changes in the ICT environment in business.
At the start of ICT in business, it was almost possible to keep up with changes in the overall ICT environment, but today it can be a full-time activity keeping up with one area.
The ICT Leader needs to keep a strategic view of ICT, what are the upcoming trends and in particular how the competition is using ICT to deliver value to their business and provide a competitive edge. That should then be incorporated in a 5-Year rolling ICT development plan, integrated with the Business Strategy.
A current view of the IT project environment states that the objectives of business / IT are linked with three separate risks that need to be managed:
- The technical risk of ensuring that the IT systems function properly;
- The organizational risks of ensuring that the employees use the system properly; and
- The business risks of ensuring that the implementation and adoption of the new IT system translate into real business value.
Of these risks, the third is by far the most important. Get that wrong, and the other two don’t really matter.
It must be understood that the alignment strategy is unique to each business, depending as it does on the culture of the business and its environment. It often appears that achieving alignment is “the selection and delivery of the right projects.” That is an oversimplification.
The alignment of ICT and Business strategies is not rocket science, but it must be done to ensure the continuing growth of the organisation, and to ensure that ICT delivers real value for money.