Does Your IT Strategy Have a Purpose?


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I always enjoy reading Idris Mootee’s blog Innovation Playground.  His latest post, “Does Your Business Strategy Have a Purpose” struck a chord.

To quote Idris, “purpose  is bigger than strategy. Way much bigger. At best, strategy is just a number of smart ideas to take advantage of a market opportunity or re-configuration of the value chain. But purpose is different, it is a journey. Strategies are about means; they cannot be an end in themselves. An end is a reason. Many companies today are not lacking strategies, they lack a reason–they lack purpose.”

I’ve worked with many consulting clients who get all lathered up developing IT strategies.  And yet, when I ask them, “What do you believe is the purpose of IT in your company?” they stop dead in their tracks.  Over the years, I’ve found that question to be powerful (i.e., a question that can lead to profound changes.)  For example, at Level 1 Business-IT Maturity, the purpose is often some variation on the theme, “To provide an enabling infrastructure for our business model.”  At Level 2, the purpose evolves to something like, “To integrate core business processes across the enterprise.”  And at Level 3, the purpose becomes something like, “To create new and differentiating customer experiences and to innovate our products and services.”

Purpose for IT is critical – it sets the ambition, and that ambition in turn unlocks the passion and motivation to rise above current state performance and the many challenges of providing IT capability.  Remember, I always see the world through this maturity lens – therefore, the lower level purpose never goes away – but a higher level purpose grows on top of it.  When I learned to walk (many years ago!) my purpose was to get from a to b without crawling.  When I learned to run, it was to get places more quickly than I could do by walking, but I still used the means of walking more often than I ran.

So, ask yourself (and your colleagues on the IT leadership team) “What is the purpose for our IT organization?”  If you ran into your CEO and he said, “I’m thinking of outsourcing our entire IT organization.”  would you be able to quickly articulate a compelling purpose for IT that could not be adequately served by outsourcing the whole shebang?

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2 thoughts on “Does Your IT Strategy Have a Purpose?

  1. Vaughan,

    In my view IT exists for one reason: to manage the flow of data between business assets.

    This is a concept which I believe will be important for business and IT in the years ahead.

    If you take this approach, then techniques used in the Oil & Gas industries for many years can be applied in any sector.

    In Oil and Gas, the introduction of digital monitoring equipment means flows of product are analogous to flows of data. These flows are displayed, monitored and trended in dollars per second.

    This means business processes can be optimised around value, and the contribution each asset makes to the cost/value of the flow can be evaluated in business (monetary) terms.

    Today, business resources (which includes people) and IT assets are either providers of data, consumers of data or provide the conduit through which the data can flow.

    The role of IT is to support, process and optimise the flow of data to maximise business performance.

    If you would like to read more about the above concept follow this link:

    http://www.keystonesandrivets.com/kar/2007/09/it-exists-for-o.html

    PJW

    Reply
  2. Frankly, I’m troubled by this limited (and limiting) view of the purpose of IT. While it is a helpful perpsective, I think it is too restrictive. IT is as much about people and process. Certainly, much of the deserved excitement about Web 2.0 goes beyond managing the flow of data beyond business assets. I also believe that many of the opportunities to innovate products and services with IT go beyond the flow of data.

    There is often power and clarity in distilling purpose down to a single reason, but I fear that in this case, managing the flow of data is just too restrictive and simplistic.

    Reply

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