CIO: Agile businesses need an agile IT strategy
Businesses today need to be agile in order to prosper. They need to be able to react quickly to the market, competition and their client needs. For a business to be agile, they must have agile IT ‘powering’ them.
As CIO, it is all too easy to get bogged-down and distracted by day-to-day issues such as service levels and running data centres. Whilst these are all important, it is vital to be able to focus above this at the strategic planning level.
A ship’s captain is well aware of any issues in the engine room, but that doesn’t stop him ensuring his ship is heading the right way. If you take your eyes off your direction, you will veer off-track and the longer you travel off-track, the more difficult and expensive it is to get back on-track. Using the ship analogy, the Costa Concordia disaster is a good example of where the captain took his eyes off the ships direction. This is why a strategy and plan are so important – to give direction.
An IT strategy is something that non-IT literate business people should be able to understand and buy-in to. It serves as a roadmap and direction for the IT team to aim for. Often the strategy goals aren’t always met and this shouldn’t be seen as failure; very few businesses state their goals and then achieve all of them without some deviation from the original planned path. The IT strategy is no different; it’s a state-point to aim for, but as situations change, the strategy should be updated; it is a living ‘thing’.
The days of waiting for the documented business strategy before deciding on the shape of the IT strategy are long gone; so how do you know what your IT strategy should be if the business strategy doesn’t exist?
- Firstly, as CIO, you should already understand what your business does, the pain-points and where it’s heading. If you don’t know this, then you need to tune-in to your business. Unlike many of the other C-level execs, the CIO is in an advantageous position because you have visibility of the whole breadth of the business.
- Stay very close to the business leaders. The CIO is a peer of the other C-level execs and must be seen and valued as such.
- Work with the business leaders to shape and drive the business strategy. Many very good business ideas come from objective forward thinking CIOs. Being close to the business strategy will ensure you really understand it and can shape the IT strategy appropriately.
- Ensure you have flexible and expandable infrastructure and services, so that rapid changes by the business can be delivered.
- Understand how you would deliver something if the business needs it (this doesn’t mean spending and delivering infrastructure ‘just in case’).
For example, the business could launch a new product into the retail sector that would require a significant increase in computing resources. How would you deliver this? It doesn’t make sense to invest now for something that may not happen. IT needs to know how they would deliver this; for example, by using a pre-selected cloud service provider.
To summarize, as CIO, you should have an IT strategy regardless of whether your business has a strategy or not. It is vitally important, as a focal point and directional tool for both your IT team and the business.