"SOLACE" in IT Strategy

IT Strategy is nothing without its implementation. How can CIOs get some "SOLACE" from their IT Strategy? Read on!

Almost every business has an IT strategic plan that describes the mission and goals of the department in relation to its business goals and strategies. It is not clear, however, that these theoretical strategies provide actionable roadmaps to the desired information transformation that are needed to create a competitive advantage for the company.

Alignment of action, policy, budget, project selection, and assessment with IT strategic plans is crucial to achieve the business goals. The phrase "transformation and effectiveness" is a term used to represent changes needed specifically emphasized and defined for that business, beyond the general concept of creating an environment that is active, dynamic, collaborative, cost-effective, and agile. In order to reach the new level, each business has to follow a methodology for assessing its readiness to transform an integrated plan and attempt to identify the elements that influence its implementation goals, including: communication, technology planning, resource allocation, project selection, policy, assessment, and evaluation.

The biggest issue that any IT department faces today is accommodating the requests from business leaders to achieve results without being given adequate resources. Multiple competing priorities lead IT implementation teams down a path where there is no way to win. With out any discipline, many continuous improvement and management practices, like lean, Six Sigma, focus more on cost-cutting measures and quality rather than growth and competition. With limited resources, the CIO is caught in the middle of the marriage of IT and business. The rocky marriage can lead to incomplete projects, less funding and even disaster. In today’s information age, new capabilities and business demands bring even higher expectations. The conflict created by the need to grow while facing resource constraints is a worry for any CIO in this information age to prove their effectiveness.

In order to be effective and to deliver the best values to the business, CEOs need to have better strategic planning and business alignment strategies. To accomplish this, the CIO should act as leader, business person, marketer, techno-strategist, and, of course, a counselor to keep this marriage alive and to bring wisdom to both sides. Quite often, we all miss this main point of co-existence and debate among ourselves the importance of the IT strategy versus its execution. How often have we seen that the marriage between business strategies and IT goals suffer? In any corporate strategy implementation plan, a major consideration is to have an effective IT strategy that understands the role and scope of IT and how it impacts the business objectives.

IT strategy not only enables the effectiveness of an organization but also defines the efficiency of the information. If an organization needs to be competent in the market, good IT strategy and execution is needed to create value. The million dollar question is why IT strategies fail even though the business has the desire to succeed? I believe that business units and IT fail to embrace one another and understand the needs and competencies to succeed. To satisfy the requirements of the information age, companies need an energetic and skilled leader who can translate the strategies into a portfolio of systems and actions to achieve the business goals.

As corporations and businesses seek to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace, the acronym “SOLACE” is helpful to implement and execute IT strategy. This includes:

  1. Strategy Definition and Formulation
  2. Ownership
  3. Leadership
  4. Agility and Adaptability
  5. Collaboration
  6. Empowerment

Webster’s dictionary defines, “Strategy” as an elaborate and systematic plan of action.” Strategy starts with an objective; in this case, IT strategy should be a vehicle that takes the business to its destination (business objectives and goals). IT Strategy should be an iterative processthat evolves along with concept. More importantly the strategy has to align with the business and IT capabilities, rather than adapting the IT to address the business requirements. Thus, the primary focus for the IT strategy should be that both the business and IT capabilities drive one another and guides the direction of the IT functions within an organization.

Usually, businesses get caught in a cobweb trying to define IT strategy. Because they tend to not clearly articulate the IT strategy itself. Corporations usually focus on the Total Cost Ownership (TCO) and Return On Investment (ROI) of their investments and miss the picture. IT needs to be adaptable and agile to accommodate the changes in today’s world where there is a change taking place every minute. At the same time, if they focus more on the ROI and TCO for a longer time horizon, they will be behind in achieving competitive advantage in the market place due to the global and dynamic business environment. It is best advised, therefore, to focus on the short time horizon and focus in on key objectives, keeping the ROI and TCO in mind. Usually, the best strategy articulation is that where both business and IT agree to pragmatic achievable goals to be productive.

Who owns the word “IT Strategy” in a corporation? The answer is both the IT and the business. Ownership is a broader and different concept than is the business (finance for example) area when it comes to execution. The exact meaning of the business (finance for example) area can be vague and beyond the scope of this discussion. For our purposes, let's just say that the business (finance for example) area implies ownership. We will call the executive leaders as collaboration leaders who have responsibility for the strategy defined and executed in their respective workplace and those who coordinate any decisions.

The company CIO should also be part of the strategy working group for the corporation. IT strategy is an iterative process where the corporation needs to align its capabilities, along with its aspirations. The strategy should be monitored and revisited so that small changes that affect the business can be accommodated. This will help the corporation to set a direction with which to steer the ship in the right direction. In order to effectively implement the strategy, each corporation needs to have a very cohesive leadership group with governance of the whole body and effective control mechanisms.

The combination of leadership with organization support will lead to success that is backed up by vision and strategy with proper planning, optimal budgeting, and efficient operations. In today’s information age, “old- school” management style skills are still needed, but it’s the new leadership, including the vision, strategy, communications, and empowerment, that are a must. This will allow the entire corporation to participate in its growth, development, and execution of the strategy.

Leaders should also inspire trust, focus on people, and have a long-range perspective. They have to challenge the status-quo and use creativity to define their strategy. A leader should also be able to anticipate the future and allow for developments in technologies and changes in the marketplace or the global economy. Many think that developing strategy means planning for the future. Only experienced leaders know that planning is only the beginning. In reality, planning is not what you should do first. For any strategy to be successful, leaders should assess the present situation. If the leaders do not do an honest SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis, the strategy will eventually be disastrous plan.

We also have to keep in mind that even the best strategic plan and best systems will result in inflexibility. Agility and Adaptability are the results of successfully managing the internal and external tensions that will naturally arise between the need for flexibility in the market and reliability in the organization. Business and IT leaders should be adaptable by knowing their business model, customers, and market, learning from experience, and creating necessary change. If the systems need to be agile and adaptable, the portfolio management and internal governance, along with high involvement, are necessary to execute the IT strategic plan. Leaders should know when and how to diverge from the plan and still have a stable organization to be flexible enough to successfully plan throughout the change and still accomplish the goal itself.

As in team sports, there is no “I” in the team that executes or defines the strategy. The leader should be like a coach, delivering his or her best speech in an effort to inspire his or her team to work together and execute unselfishly. Leaders should really drive the Collaboration and teamwork in all the facets, efforts, and phases to execute the strategic plan. If they all wish to derive value from this collaboration effort and plan, they must view their IT strategic plan as more than just a technology deployment. They should also respect the internals of the system, boundaries of their authority, and budget responsibilities. If they try to manage within a preconceived notion, then the job of strategy execution is going to become overwhelming.

Empowerment, with support of governance, is also essential for the IT strategy plan when it comes to its definition and execution. It has to be a recurring task, where governance does not become bureaucratic, so that governance does not become a stumbling block. The leaders should try to maximize value and flexibility in the team by controlling chaos and maximizing the opportunity to make the right decisions.

If the corporations follow all of the necessary steps to find the “SOLACE” to work together with which to create the strategy, and stick together throughout its execution, they can definitely start thinking about “FUSION” between the business and the IT strategy, ultimately connecting the IT vision with the business strategy.

About the Author:

Mr. Seetharaman is a Managing consultant with IBM. His work focuses on the financial services and distribution sector. His diverse background experience (14 years) spans planning and executing business strategies across multiple industries. Mr. Seetharaman's main area of expertise is analyzing business operations and recommending leading edge technology solutions for improving processes, enhancing productivity and reducing expenditure. He has earned a postgraduate degree in Information Sciences from the Kennedy Western University, specializing in Data management, Operations and Strategy that include Information Architecture, Usability Studies, System Design, and planning.�

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