From ‘Supply Constrained’ to ‘Value Constrained’ Business-IT Model


One of the difficult paradigm shifts that tends to trap IT organizations in Level 2 Business-IT Maturity is the notion that business demand must be constrained by IT supply.  Demand always exceeds supply for IT capacity, so the idea (part of the Level 1 experience) is to set a limit on IT supply, then figure out some way of prioritizing demand against that supply capacity.  Sometimes the the constraining mechanism is IT budget, other times it is IT headcount – either way, the net effect is the same – a bunch of work that the business wants won’t get done, and we hope the prioritization mechanism works sufficiently well that the “right” demand is flowing through and getting address, and the “wrong” demand (low business value) is not.  I’ve rarely seen this work well.

If there is a single line of business, at least demand can be prioritized across the business line, and the mechanisms to achieve this are not too hard to implement.  Typically, however, there are multiple lines of business, and while the mechanisms in each business line may work ok, there are rarely effective mechanisms across lines of business.  This leads to all sorts of dysfunctionality, especially as the enterprise matures and shifts towards more of an integrated business, with common and shared process, compared with the more functional and stove-piped model typical at Level 1.

For example, IT resources get “walled off” against business units – sometimes actually being embedded in the unit.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with the embedding – certainly some IT capabilities (such as Relationship Management) work most effectively when they are really close to the business).  However, when analysts, designers, developers, testers, etc. get “walled off” for given business units, they are no longer available to be shared across the enterprise – they creates all sorts of inefficiencies.  And, from my experience, with the best will in the world, and with competent, well meaning people both in IT and the business, demand will fill that available “walled off” supply no matter what.  A result is that lots of relatively low value and non-essential demand gets filled, while high value demand, both within the business unit with the walled off resources, and in the other business units sits in a backlog (at best) or, more typically, just does not get surfaced because people know there is no hope of getting it filled.  A symptom of this is an IT organization with literally thousands of active projects, mostly small, and with a general sense that IT costs a lot of money and delivers little value.  Such an environment presents all sorts of challenges to real business-IT strategic alignment.

The big breakthrough comes somewhere in Level 2 where there is a shift from this supply constrained model to one that is value constrained.  Let me first describe the theoretical end state of the value constrained model – we will explore the practical realities of moving to this model later on.  At the theoretical end point, IT supply is treated as an infinite resource that can flex its capacity on demand – ramp up to meet high value demand, ramp down when that demand goes away.

The key enablers to move to this model (once the paradigm shift is understood and desired) are to:

  • Prioritize demand based upon business value (which has all sorts of implications for business cases, cost and value accountability, value measurement, portfolio management, etc.)
  • Create an agile and flexible supply capability (which typically means there is a robust global sourcing strategy and management model, key partnerships with global sourcing entities are in place, and the IT organization has become focused exclusively on “core” IT capabilities – usually encompassing relationship management, demand management, value realization, business process improvement, innovation, program management, portfolio management and global talent sourcing.)
  • Add an IT Program Management layer over IT Project Management
  • Add an IT Enterprise Portfolio Management layer over IT Program Management
  • Elevate IT Architecture to Enterprise Architecture
  • Implement an effective business-IT governance model to facilitate cross enterprise and cross business-IT decision making.

I will explore each of these enablers in subsequent posts.

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