This question came up in a discussion with a CIO and their IT strategist. They raised the point after we talked about the impact of new ‘lightweight’ technologies on IT such s virtualization, cloud computing and social media. These and other technologies can have a profound impact on IT services, economics, resources and strategy,
Their idea was that it a focus on technology may be the best way IT to create value in the coming year. The shift to ‘foundational’ technologies in 2011 would give IT a stronger position to create business value in the future,
They pointed out the past, technology change often drove IT strategy for example the move from batch to online, online to client server, etc. Those investments were strategic to IT and transformational to the business.
The strategist commented that there was precedence for making this move as past technology waves required IT to exchange immediate business projects for longer term technical capability. The strategist agreed that they had not faced this choice in almost 10 years when they dropped everything to concentrate on the Internet. They pointed that back then a technology intensive IT strategy served the company well, so why not now.
The clincher in their mind was the observation that the company would probably not ask for much from IT in 2011 as demand for new solutions was down in the face of the recession. More cost cutting, yes, but the business was not signaling that there would be a major business initiative in the coming year.
The strategist has a point in that new technologies and service models are changing the foundation and underpinnings for IT. The move from IT functions, to solutions and now to services reflects a major change in the way IT works that will require CIOs and leaders to prepare.
At the same time, IT seems to be turning the corner in terms of its business relevance and importance as economic conditions stabilize, business demand for IT returns and IT has a backlog of issues to deal with. A shift back to a technology focus at this time seems inappropriate given the progress to date and challenges facing the future. However, realizing much of this opportunity requires changing the IT model as current organizational structures, techniques and approaches are losing their effectiveness.
What is your opinion? The obvious answer is that you need to do both, but what if doing both causes you to be mediocre in both rather than really good in one or the other. Lets use that idea as a constraint, as you only have the resources to be excellent in one area. So you have to make an either or decision, what you recommend and why? Do I lay down the technology foundation for the future now or do I muddle through and deliver the business solutions required by the business as it takes the turn out of recession.