This thought hit me in the UK a few weeks ago as it was cold outside and I was trying to wash my hands with warm but not scalding hot water. In the hotel I was confronted by a sink with two facets, see example below taken from this do it yourself website.
As you can see, there is one facet for hot water and one for cold. So how do you get water that is somewhere in between? The best I could do was to move my hands quickly between two streams of water and extremes of temperature that on average was warm but put my hands through a freeze/thaw cycle and a lot of movement from one side to the other.
This got me thinking about IT strategy, I know my life is kind of narrow at times, because so often CIOs and IT leaders are asked to pursue strategies of extremes: growth vs. cost cutting or quality vs. capacity or openness vs. security. It is always presented as a tradeoff—you get this or you get that.
IT strategy can be an either/or position much like a sink with two facets. People work on growth projects or people work on cost cutting, etc. It is a simple argument to say that IT strategy needs to be both/and. It is also a useless argument as often no one tells you how; they just imply that you are less of a leader if you cannot do more than one thing at a time.
The reality is that there are reasons behind having a bi-polar IT strategy. You cannot do anything with IT strategy until you unpack and address those reasons. Only then can you re-plumb IT strategy and the IT organization. Ok, so here are a few reasons that come to mind
Business indecision – perhaps the most important factor here as creating a blended strategy requires time, attention and sophistication. Its much easier to say ‘all speed ahead –growth or all reverse – cost’ than it is to define the changes required to get where you want to go.
Funding – presenting an either/or, strategy is a way of getting additional funding for the IT organization. The argument goes something like this: We only have enough money for one initiative and if you want us to pursue others you will have to pay for it.
Focus – as IT is complex and we have to optimize our decision and systems in one direction or the other. Rigging the IT ship to cut costs naturally precludes it form being able to change quickly, etc.
Skills – the skills required to deliver one strategic objective are not necessarily the same skills or abilities required to do the other. Many IT organizations are staffed a little like a football team with specialized skills for either offense or defense. Changing strategy would require a lot of expensive and disruptive substitution.
Technology – Your architecture reflects changes in strategy particularly when strategy goes to an extreme and stays there for a few years. When strategy changes we either reconfigure the architecture or we bold on modules that support a new channel without disturbing the rest of our systems. That is how those ‘how did this get here’ systems get there.
I am sure that there are other reasons behind either/or strategies, and I would appreciate your thoughts in these areas. Tomorrow’s post will discuss some thoughts on how to unpack these issues in order to re-plumb IT strategy to better reflect the reality we all face.
The future is not all black or all white. Neither is it a gray goo. On the contrary, the future is as it always was unfolding, colorful and full of opportunity if only we can get the temperature right.