Ask people about their IT strategy and you often get a long answer. I’ve looked around a bit, and the definition that appeals to me most is one I found on the CioIndex Website at www.cioindex.com: IT strategy is an iterative process to align IT capability with business requirements. The author adds a few extras to clarify this succinct definition:
• It’s a process, not a point-in-time event.
• It’s iterative—success comes after multiple do-and-learn cycles.
• The key is the alignment of business and IT capability. This assumes that business drives IT and not vice versa.
• IT strategy sets direction for IT function in an organization; it ensures that maximum IT dollars are spent on value creation activities for the business and that these dollars create the maximum value.
The important thing not included in this definition is a reference to anything technical, whether it’s a platform, an operating system or an application. I like that. I really, really like that! I also like the mentioning of multiple do-and-learn cycles. Most important, this definition addresses that IT dollars spent should create value for the business. I don’t think anyone would argue with this definition. In fact, IT needs to focus on a strategy that leverages Business Service Innovation—new, inventive approaches and technologies to provide high-quality, reliable services in support of business goals.
What strikes me is that we often seem to do a lot and learn very little. We habitually allow IT to drive business; taking the approach, “let’s go cloud, I bet it can solve some business problems” instead of “here’s the business problem, what’s the best way to solve it with IT?” I’ve often seen departments within the same company dig in, fighting a platform, operating system or specific application, and quickly lose focus of what should really matter—solving a business problem. Those on the offense are often the ones backed by new technology. Those on the defense are backed by older technology; and for those who haven’t experienced this yet, everyone will eventually end up in defense mode.
Mainframers were on the offense when they started replacing manual systems with automated systems. They became defensive when they felt attacked by the people promoting distributed systems—the same people who now feel cloud-based services are a threat. This wouldn’t be all that bad if we all stayed focused on what we were asked to do in the first place: do what’s best for the business. But we aren’t doing that.
Of course, everyone needs a solid IT strategy, and in companies with mainframes, those systems are an integral part of that strategy. This is important in order to create the most effective and efficient strategy that leverages the unique strengths of both distributed and mainframe systems across the IT infrastructure. Formulating this strategy isn’t about describing all the technical merits, challenges and the future outlook for the mainframe; it’s about describing it as a part of an IT infrastructure that’s tailored to do what the company wants it to do. Finally, in a business-driven IT strategy, we need to describe capabilities instead of technical features because we need to support business requirements. Once we’ve done this, we then simply need to select the right capabilities needed to support these requirements instead of having to fight the various platform battles.
A strategy based on Business Service Innovation does just that—optimizing technology planning in the context of particular business goals. This approach supports and strengthens the different capabilities of the various platforms you have in your IT infrastructure so you can select the ones you need to support your business requirements. You need an IT strategy, but a much simpler one than you probably have today.