For IT strategy to truly translate into business performance, it’s got to think in terms of corporate strategy. This short blog outlines just how big the advantages of matching one to the other are – with positive effects for every IT professional.
Fit and flexible
First, let’s borrow a metaphor from the fitness industry. Grab hold of a limb (preferably your own) and push or pull it to the limit of its range of movement. (For example how far your leg will fold towards your lower back.) Then try the same movement, without help from another limb. You won’t get it as far. The gap between the two is a measure of your core flexibility, and the bigger the gap, the more prone you are to injury.
It’s a useful analogy for the IT department’s contribution to a business, especially now the average EU company spends £6.24m each year. If its goals and objectives are perfectly matched to those of the broader organisation – i.e. there’s no ‘gap’ – the department is fully fit for purpose. If, however, there’s a mismatch, it creates the potential for inefficiency: the ‘core’ is weak. Causing injury to the department… and the company beyond.
Let’s look at some common ‘gaps’ between IT and corporate strategy at play across Europe today. If you recognise any of them within your business, here’s a two-part exercise you can complete to put things on the right course.
Starting the motion: strategic planning
Technology is terrific. (As you’d expect us to say.) But the first step in finding the right mix of tech and plan doesn’t need anything higher-tech than pencil and paper.
Divide the paper in half with a line down the middle. Then on the left side, write down the priorities of your IT strategy. Don’t think in terms of speeds ‘n’ feeds or hardware/software choices; think of the effect you want your goals to have.
Are you trying to cut costs of servicing users by streamlining processes, like 73% of respondents in our survey? Do you need to improve skills and staffing levels, like 34% of those questioned? Or is enabling BYOD more relevant right now? Is improving the experience for the people who use your technology moving up the list, as for 89% of survey respondents? Are there new types of user the IT department needs to satisfy? What’s at the top of the list, what are you leaving for next quarter?
You’ll probably end up with six to eight goals. And you’ll find these goals fit into standard strategic business objectives: driving down costs, boosting sales, increasing profit margins, and so on. Label each goal with the broader business objective it slots into.
Now, on the other side of the sheet of paper, note down the strategic business objectives of the entire company your IT department services, in the same order of priority from urgent to can wait. Think about your company’s competitive position. Do you sell a commodity product, in which case customer service is your key differentiator? Or are your products market leaders, in which case the game is to grow the market as a whole? Is the business facing challenges in its supply chain needing to be smoothed out? Is a shift to a different class of products leaving you in the lurch?
Porter’s Five Forces diagram is a time-honoured way to understand how different factors in a marketspace push and pull each player within it. Work out where your company fits on the diagram – it’ll tell you what the key goals of the business are.
And if you’re not sure, that’s a signal to book a meeting with the C-Suite.
Completing the move: innovative technology
Next, broaden your perspective. How do those two lists compare to each other? Look for the ‘gaps’.
Is the IT department focused on cutting costs, but the company’s market is growing explosively, suggesting it’s time for investment rather than cutbacks? Is your customer experience a low priority because it’s ‘good enough’, when competitors are delighting customers with superlative alternatives?
This simple exercise can focus your people’s minds away from narrow IT concerns, and onto the broader business itself. Because in truth, the objectives of your business are the IT objectives. So once you’ve reprioritised your IT strategy to close any gaps, it’s time for part two: thinking about innovation.
Look critically at new trends like cloud computing, serviced infrastructure, and outsourced security for your applications and data. Because a great deal of what prevents IT innovation is existing infrastructure. 87% believe there are barriers to embracing new technology. An average of 70% also say they’re trying to improve processes, increase control over their data, answer skills shortages.
Here’s your takeaway thought: estimate how much time you’d have to think strategically about your business if all the everyday busywork – supporting users, maintaining infrastructure, keeping apps patched and up to date – were taken out of your hands. Chances are it would more than quadruple.
The above is a quick sense-check for finding “gaps” between your IT and corporate strategies. But it may have given you some food for thought – and some ideas for putting more hours back into your day.
- A gap between IT and corporate objectives lets opportunities fall through the cracks
- Matching IT strategy to corporate strategy doesn’t have to take much time
- Many IT departments want to be more responsive, but feel chained to existing technology
- Cloud computing and SaaS services are more secure and available than ever
- When IT strategy is perfectly matched to business goals, it means you’re perfectly placed to compete