Over the last few years leaders have come to the realization that technology is essential to business success and should be used as a strategic weapon. This is without a doubt the right conclusion and brings with it high expectations of IT. The light is now shining bright on IT to deliver.

In order to live up to the high expectations IT must respond to disruptive technologies/services (e.g., consumer mobile devices), maintain regulatory compliance, deliver solutions to satisfy business requests, and keep the lights on while maintaining a reasonably flexible foundation to deal with changing business needs. This alone is a daunting task. Now factor in the complexity and brittle nature of most technology environments (e.g., legacy custom software or applications that are no longer supported) and a limited budget. Suddenly this daunting task becomes seemingly impossible.

All of these challenges highlight the need for a transformation within IT to provide the agility needed to serve the business well. The transformation requires a thoughtful plan to establish the architecture of the future. The challenges IT face can’t be addressed in an ad-hoc fashion by taking on projects one-by-one. If anything, the introduction of cloud services (IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS) has made the need for an effective IT strategy and strong architecture definition more critical to drive the IT transformation.

Some may still argue that an IT strategy is just an exercise and not required. Sure, at times strategies can be lofty shelfware that serve no practical purpose, that’s not what I’m referring to. I can share from first hand experience that following a well-defined, practical strategy yields great results in the short and long term. Strategic-based IT service delivery provides clear direction and purpose for those in the IT organization. (It’s amazing what teams can achieve when working to achieve a common goal!) It also drives simplification which leads to reduced cost, increased flexibility, reduced risk, and the ability to implement business solutions in a more timely manner.

The graphic below describes the key elements of the IT transformation. As you would expect the transformation begins with a focus on the business. After all, the purpose of technology within the enterprise is to enable the business. Understanding the business, user community, and context of constraints provides the background information to develop an effective plan for transformation. This is the input needed to drive the technology vision.

IT Strategy Development

The technology vision is critical in identifying where IT needs to be to enable the business strategy. How do you provide the best user experience and enable employees to perform their business process in the most effective and efficient manner? What must IT get right? What’s the high-level view of how to achieve this? Creating this vision requires a clean slate, don’t bring in the baggage and constraints from the current state.

The technology strategy is the meat of the transformation and establishes the approach to achieving the vision. How do I get from the current state to where I want to be? It takes the vision and begins to clarify how to realize it. What level of application and technology rationalization is needed? What gaps need to be addressed and what are the dependencies? How do I leverage the cloud to achieve my strategic goals?

The technology strategy phase also includes initial definition of the application, data, and technology architecture needed to establish the IT foundation. This also includes defining the key principles of solution design needed to drive the right level of user experience, scalability, maintainability, availability, responsiveness, trustworthiness, and simplicity. WIll the architecture focus on scale-out vs. scale-up? Is a centralized or de-centralized data architecture more appropriate to satisfy the needs of the business? There are a host of other items but hopefully you get the point.

The next step is developing the technology roadmap to drive execution. This identifies the priorities for execution and interdependencies to consider. The roadmap provides input to IT portfolio planning and budgeting.

Measuring strategic progress is the last step in the process. Understanding the shifts expected and the key metrics that measure progress will help to determine the success of the strategy. At a minimum a semi-annual review of leading and lagging indicators should be conducted. Adjustments should be made if the anticipated results aren’t achieved.

The question becomes how is this innovative? This appears to be basic elements of IT planning, nothing new. The innovation comes with how this is executed. Identifying technologies that address the core needs, provide a great user experience, integrate well with existing systems, and maintain an acceptable risk level is a challenging task when you are dealing with today’s complex enterprise environments. The key is simplicity which is not easy to achieve – simplicity is hard but yields great long term results.

I know this post doesn’t address all IT transformation challenges – that’s a tall order. The intent was to identify the key considerations needed to drive the transformation. To fill in the blanks a great understanding of the business and how employees work must be combined with a great understanding of technology. This is the best path to business-focused, effective, and efficient IT transformation.

Posted by Karl

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