Thursday, December 19, 2013

Why your IT strategy failed or why the business hates IT

One of the most depressing things in IT is our inability to learn.  From the 'Oh look our massive waterfall project ran over budget' to the 'I really can't maintain the code we wrote that doesn't have a design or documentation' we do the same things as an industry over and over again.  Most depressing however is the phrase 'The IT Strategy would work if the business would just change'.

To illustrate this I'd like to tell you a tale, the names will not be used to protect the guilty but it sums up nicely the lunacy of many IT strategy efforts.

Many moons ago I was working for the business side of a large and very successful company.  This company was seen as a genuine market leader and I was working on some very complex mathematics around predictive analytics that the business folks wanted to make their supply chain run better.  There were two highlights through the process from the IT department.

The first was when discussing how such a solution would be implemented and integrated into the operational systems.  IT had a strategy you see and by strategy I mean they had picked a couple of vendors, the solution I was working on had some very specific requirements and wasn't available from those vendors.  An Enterprise Architect from the IT department said in a pretty well attended meeting
'It doesn't matter what the business wants, if we say it isn't going in, it isn't going in.'
The project continued on however as the business saw value in it and wanted to understand what could be done.  One of the key pieces was that we'd need some changes in how operational processes worked, not big ones but more we'd change the way people worked within the existing processes by giving them better information.  To this end we had a workshop with the business and certain key IT folks and worked out how we'd have to design the interfaces and processes to work within the current business environment and culture.  It was a good workshop and the business folks were very happy.

Then came IT, IT you see had a big strategic project to replace all of the existing systems with 'best of breed' solutions.  I'd always assumed that given the massive budget for that program the business was fully engaged... then this happened....

One of the IT folks chirped up and said : "We need to have a workshop so we can tell you what your new operational processes are going to be"

Note the 'tell'... to which the most senior business guy there (a board member IIRC) said

"How do you mean tell us?"

IT Guy: "The new systems have new processes and we need to tell you what they are so you can change."

Business Guy:"Have you done an impact analysis against our current processes?"

IT Guy: "No we've just defined the Best Practice To-Be processes, you need to do the impact and change management.  We need the meeting so we can tell you what the To-Be processes are"

Business Guy in a voice so dripping with sarcasm I thought we'd have a flood: "I look forward to our IT department telling the business what Best Practice is for our industry."

IT Guy, completely failing to read the sarcasm: "Great we'll get it organised"

This is one of the most visible examples of my career on why IT strategies fail.  I've said before there is no such thing as IT strategy its the job of IT to help automate and improve the business strategy, that means thinking tactically and taking strategy from the business model.
"Culture eats strategy for breakfast"
This is the reality and an IT approach that seeks to drive over the culture and dictate from a position of technology purity will fail.  You can change the culture, its hard and its not a technology thing, but you always need to be aware of the culture in order to succeed.

IT Strategy, if such a thing exists, is there to make the business better not to make IT better.

1 comment:

joshwa said...

The flipside of this is IT departments whose response to "jump" is invariably "how high?", no matter how unreasonable the request according to the laws of physics, current technology state, and the iron triangle.

The best projects are ones where there is a spirit of collaboration and mutual respect for the other's concerns, priorities, and limitations.

Of course, that respect has to be earned, and with a track record like that client's, that's going to be a long path to instill respect and trust.