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Don't align, synergise

Don't align, synergise

I have written about strategy before and in particular my dislike of our industry's obsession with the need to align IT with the business. The very act of trying to align IT and the business is perhaps the source of our issues as alignment assumes separateness where no separateness exists. IT is a part of the business as a whole.

As it happens, I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about IT strategy and I began to ponder the question if not alignment then what? Much of this thinking was done at the beach near my home.

As with most Auckland beaches it has a magnificent view of Rangitoto Island. Rangitoto fascinates me because no matter where you look at it from it basically looks the same. I have spent hours over the years looking at Rangi from different angles to try and find some difference and marvelling at its symmetry and uniformity and reflecting on how unusual this is.

For most things in life if you look at them from different angles you will see something different even though you are looking at the same thing. That's when it struck me. When it comes to IT strategy, instead of alignment and separateness we would be better off thinking about different perspectives and how to create synergy between these perspectives.

Synergy is the process of getting one plus one to equal three, or more formally, to have the whole equal more than the sum of the parts. In this case the parts are the different perspectives from which you can view an organisation.

So how would you go about creating such a strategy? Here are some of the perspectives which could be important:

Perspective one: Understand your surroundings. This includes understanding why an organisation exists, its purpose and values, the competitive environment and your position in that environment and the broader political, community and regulatory environment.

Perspective two: Understand your organisation. This includes understanding what your organisation does and how it does it (function, service and process models). What products and services you provide and to what markets and customers. Who are your partners and what is your distinctive proposition to the market.

Perspective three: Understand the vision. This includes understanding how the organisation defines success, understanding the gap between where you are today and where you need to be to fulfil the vision and identifying specifically what needs to change to make this happen.

Perspective four: Identify relevant technology. This includes understanding what technology is available, understanding how that technology will support the organisation to fulfil its vision, understanding what other opportunities technology may allow and if appropriate feeding this information back into perspective 1, understanding your surroundings.

Perspective five: Identify non-technology enablers of change. While technology is a major source of change and innovation in today's world, technology is not always the best or only solution. This perspective identifies people and organisational based solutions and the people and organisational impacts of proposed technology change.

Based on these perspectives you can begin to bring together a plan or strategy on how to move the organisation forward to fulfil on its vision. The components of the plan could look like this:

" A set of technology-enabled process visions that set out how the organisation will operate in the future, the results it will produce, and a description of the technology and non technology changes that are required;

" Agreed priorities and a roadmap that set out what is most important to do now and what will need to wait;

" An execution plan that details how today's priorities will be executed and managed;

" A plan to review and update the perspectives and the plan, incorporating what you have achieved, what you have learned and other changes that have occurred.

The IT strategy that you produce through this process will become yet another perspective to view the organisation from, one that is created alongside and from other organisational perspectives. If done well this will create synergy that moves the organisation forward.

Owen McCall is director of Viewfield Consulting and a member of CIO New Zealand's editorial advisory board. He can be reached through owen.mccall@successfulcio.com and through his blog at www.successfulcio.com.

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