Aligning Business and IT strategy for Cloud success
IT professionals are frequently reminded of the importance of strategy when faced with a technology investment decision. However, ensuring that a strategy is deliverable and defining what ‘good’ looks like in respect of achieving both business goals and IT goals presents a more complex challenge.
As Chief Technical Officer at The Bunker, I’ve seen and worked with many organisations that rely massively on an IT strategy that has substance. Equally, I’ve encountered just as many where a course has been set without the necessary due diligence, care and attention. In other words, they’ve lacked what I would define as a ‘good’ strategy.
While it’s important to recognise that not all good strategies succeed, it’s not necessarily a given that all bad strategies fail. Nevertheless, the odds are stacked against you when business strategy and IT strategy are not properly aligned, planned and executed.
Indeed, the results of ‘bad’ strategy are clear to see: migrations that are never fully or successfully executed; failure to meet compliance and security requirements; requirements that are inadvertently invalidated; or a sudden realisation that the services you thought you were getting are not actually what’s being delivered (despite what the supplier had promised).
All of these issues are born out of what I define as a ‘bad’ strategy – an ill-conceived plan, or a wonderfully creative piece of business and IT thinking that goes awry due to the fact that no scientific analysis has been conducted in advance. It’s the ‘Art without the Science’ if you will that signifies bad strategy.
Separating the good from the bad
Many scholarly articles have been published that examine what separate a good strategy from a bad one. If we start with a quick definition of what a strategy is, this should enable us to better understand how both good and bad strategies can manifest themselves.
Strategy is the art and science of planning and marshalling resources for their most efficient and effective use. The term is derived from the Greek word for generalship, or leading an army. Here, we have two key themes to be aware of:
Art – the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination
Science – the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment
The marriage of these two key concepts, or the left and right brain functions, are needed to create a strategy. We need to join up our creative thought processes and apply our knowledge of our business, or indeed of Information Technology (that which we have learned and observed) in order to formulate a strategy for our business and for Information Technology.
Delving into the mysterious world of Cloud Strategy and to bring the marriage of art and science to life, let’s do some ‘blue sky’ thinking (excuse the pun):
A bad strategy may look something like this: “We are going to take all of our business into the Cloud”. While that may sound like a plan or a strategy of sorts, it’s a bad one. It is easy to imagine and create that vision, but where is the application of knowledge and experience? Where’s the systematic science of studying the Information Technology world in taking this approach? How can a business actually achieve this and why would it want to do it? And what are the benefits and risks?
Without asking these types of questions and, more importantly, answering them, we cannot simply make a statement and expect a successful outcome. Yet many organisations do. They embark on the dreaded ‘J’ word (journey) without any real sense of why they are doing it – and even without any perceived financial advantage.
Without a measurable outcome to benchmark at every step, or the ability to examine whether the course has been set correctly and the feedback mechanisms in place to make corrections along the way, the strategy (bad strategy) is doomed to fail.
The next piece may be somewhat controversial, but once we apply it to the dynamics of what makes a good strategy, all will become clear: The key to a good strategy, business and IT is teamwork.
Yes it’s as simple as that.
To explain: a strategy that is set by an individual and dictated upon others to deliver is always going to be difficult to achieve.
Strategy needs to come from the bottom up and not the top down. To gain the insight and to fully understand all of the benefits and all of the risks, one must simply speaking, ask for help. Engage others, internally and externally, but also take responsibility for having a strategy and the planning and execution of it. In fact it’s essential to direct and empower others to deliver. But don’t just come up with an idea and tell everyone else to go do it.
Ultimately, Cloud strategy means understanding all of the possible outcomes, the risks, the benefits, the opportunity cost and the impact to others and how they feel. The good strategy is one that everyone understands – not only what it is, but also the why, how and when.
If the business is engaged in this way, then and only then, can the bad strategy “We are going into the cloud” become the good strategy “To transform IT to deliver maximum value to the business by delivering services and systems from infrastructure and platforms that allow us to achieve our business goals whilst managing risk, protecting our brand, allowing us to innovate with control and become more competitive”.
And when thinking about a good strategy, bear in mind the words of Sun Tzu: “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”