IT Strategy is like a soufflé – the recipe is simple; execution requires mastering!

Author

Gunnar Menzel

December 17, 2015

 A couple of weeks ago I was asked

  • “What is your standard approach to plan, design and execute an IT Strategy engagement?”
  • “isn’t a Strategy just a picture?”
  • “I had a look at an IT Strategy you created and it looked quite easy”

For me IT Strategy is a bit like a soufflé – the recipe is simple; execution requires mastering!

Tricky to create a soufflé? Yes it is. When you read the recipe you think “what is so tricky getting a desert together – it’s must be like bread and butter pudding; nearly indestructible, yet delicious” – but as soon as you start you realise that is it far more difficult than the actual recipe makes out. It’s a bit like an IT Strategy – the generic approach is obvious, however the execution is not. Why is this?

Let’s start with the IT Strategy recipe: Strategy comes from the military (Strategy is a word that comes from the Greek word for “Generals”, i.e. it is the stuff that Generals do) and over the years the tools and methods creating / developing a Strategy have found their way to the IT Industry.

With complexity and with fast moving environment where you have to predict what is going to happen, having a Strategy can be helpful. The approach is fairly simple – taken from the military. Start with now. Where are you today? What capabilities do you have? What is your current position and what are the main constraints, issues and key challenges.

Then comes the big question – where do you want to be? What is the target? What is the future? What are the key drivers and objectives getting there? What would it take to getting there? What are the main things you have to do to achieve your dream- the land of milk and honey? Knowing that it is unlikely that you arrive at paradise, what are the more realistic targets – like where would you like to be tomorrow, next week, next month or in 1 years’ time?

None of this is a complete Strategy – A Strategy is the “direction of travel”; it is the MasterPlan you execute to get you from today to our Vision, your destination, your target. It’s the steps you have to execute to reach your destination.

“Without strategy execution is aimless. Without execution strategy is useless”  -Morris Change, CEO of TSMC

There are many surveys, reports and papers outlining why IT Strategies fail [3,4,5]. Typically failures are related to the actual implementation of a defined Strategy – “Studies have found that two-thirds to three-quarters of large organizations struggle to implement their strategies.” [4].  However issues also arise during the actual definition phase when an organisation or a team will try to set out the actual IT Strategy.

Plenty of IT (Information Technology) Strategic engagement have ended in dead ends; have created “shelf ware” or “door stoppers”, missing completely the expectations by stakeholders and sponsors. Gartner refers to it as “WORN” (written once, read never) — an oxymoron, since they never are used enough to become worn [5].

When analysing failed IT Strategies it becomes clear that there many contributing factors as to why an IT Strategy piece has failed to deliver. The below is an attempt to provide some views:

  1. Approach focused only on artefacts/content and not on consensus
    • Some engagements are targeting and focusing too much on the actual artefacts; the deliverables, or outcome ;
    • Far more important than creating picture and diagrams is to try to get consensus with all key stakeholders;
  2. Focusing only on IT and missing the Business Alignment
    • Yes, an IT Strategy is focused on IT but that does not mean it should only address techie material;
    • To be successful an IT Strategy has to start with the Business; the IT is only a result of the required business changes;
  3. Not having the right C-Level support / sponsorship
    • In a Survey sponsored by The Economist [3] respondents say the number-one reason for the success of strategic initiatives at their organisation is leadership buy-in and support.
    • Nevertheless, only half of those surveyed say that strategy implementation as a whole receives appropriate C-suite attention.
  4. Not understanding today’s situation
    • Not understanding todays situation (the current AS-IS) will severely impact credibility, miss key transformation steps and will render the IT Strategy as useless
    • This must not just cover the technology space, the AS-IS must cover all aspects from users, business and technology.
  5. Creating detailed Solution and not an approach
    • A Strategy is “a direction of travel”; it is to outline how to reach a certain destination and not detailing every solution area;
    • Some IT Strategies develop IT solutions – ie the Web facing application and infrastructure landscape or the data lake for an organisation
  6. Disconnect with IT Transformation Program;
    • IT Strategy without an associated IT Program is like having a red wine without Cheddar Cheese – some engagement have no runway to land on and therefor without it, will remain “up in the air” forever;
    • A Strategy has to focus on defining the direction of travel, including an understanding how the suggested “solutions” can be implemented;
  7. Level of Detail
    • Some IT strategies stay too high level; not providing the appropriate level of detail which in turn will impact the actual transformation program;
    • Some go straight into too much detailed, ending up defining a detailed technical solution;
  8. Missing the Scope
    • An IT Strategy could focus on many different scope areas and not getting the scope right could impact the overall outcome
  9. Looking for the perfect answer
    • Technologist seek perfection and sometimes it can lead to wasting time and efforts in chasing the perfect answer;
    • There is no perfect IT Strategy; success comes mostly from stakeholder alignment;
  10. Only focusing on Tools
    • Executing an IT Strategy requires applying tools appropriately. However there is a risk that less experienced teams will be expecting that, by using and applying an IT Strategy tool / framework, a successful outcome is almost guaranteed
    • Tools can accelerate, however they are no guarantee for success

These 10 challenges are related to issues and challenges the creation / definition of an IT Strategy can encounter.   As I said. It’s like a soufflé – simple. But, try to do it. Try to develop a strategy. Not so easy. Why? Well, because even if the target is clear you have hundreds if not thousands of ways of reaching it. And there are plenty of people who all have a point of view on how to reach it. Therefor a large amount of your work is to collaborate, to share, to join and to create consensus.

Thanks for Reading!  

About the Author: Gunnar Menzel has been an IT professional for over 25 years and is the VP and Chief Architect Officer for Capgemini’s Infrastructure Business. Gunnar is also currently the President for the Open Data Centre Alliance. His main focus is business- enabling technology innovation.  

[1] ICT Strategy example: ict-strategy-digital-germany-2015.pdf on www.bmwi.de

[2] Technology Strategy, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_strategy

[3] Why good strategies fail, The Economist, http://www.pmi.org/~/media/PDF/Publications/WhyGoodStrategiesFail_Report_EIU_PMI.ashx

[4] Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2015/03/why-strategy-execution-unravelsand-what-to-do-about-it

[5] Gartner, 2015, The Art of the One-Page Strategy

[6] How to drive Innovation, Gunnar Menzel, LinkedIn   Picture taken from : https://www.finedininglovers.com/recipes/dessert/kirsch-liqueur-souffle/

This article was written by Gunnar Menzel from CapGemini: Capping IT Off and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

There is 1 comment

  • Priya Patra - 12/18/2015 07:27
    Another angle i think is how agile is our organization, how quickly can my Business / IT strategy can change to the changing business needs. Let me know your thoughts !

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