I work as a Seattle IT Consultant, sometimes as a part time CIO or technology architect for my clients. One of my potential clients was struggling with the concept of strategic business strategy and asked,
“Give me examples of ‘business technology strategy. Define this for me. Tell me exactly what it is you put together for clients.”
It’s a very good question, hard to explain, but at an important question. Most people are either tactical thinkers or strategic thinkers, with the majority thinking tactically. So the simplest way to start is to compare IT with Accounting. I’ve used this Accounting Analogy before, but bear with me…, There are four main accounting roles that correspond to four main IT Roles:
• CFO CIO
• CPA, Controller System Administrator, System Architect
• Book Keeper Technicians
CFO’s & CIO’s think strategically
CPA’s & System Administrators, manage the day to day business accounting systems
The Controller and System Architects design and verify that the day to day system processes meet accounting or IT standards
Book keepers / Technicians track the day to day record keeping under the direction of the CPA.
The accounting system is designed so there is a natural confrontation between the CPA and the Controller. In the same way the System Admin and the Controller conflict in healthy IT Departments. We also see this between ITIL roles for Incident and Problem Management.
The C-level executive in both departments will go to members of each role for specific advice, but would recognize the context of that advice and the training and understanding of the giver. He/she would also understand that they are strategic roles who are focused on the day to day activities. They are not thinking about the long term strategy of the organization, nor are do each of these roles have a big picture of the entire organization.
The problem I find though is that in SMB organizations and this model is not defined at all. Someone who is a technician is expected to play every role, Including the roles that should be confronting one another like system administrator and architect. When I see network failures, I’ve noticed that these roles are not well defined. The system administrator is also playing the system architect role. In accounting this is a big red flag when the CPA and the Controller are the same person. Similarly In IT departments red flags should also go off for the CIO and the CEO of the organization.
What is happening with most IT vendors and in most IT departments is that a technician (an equivalent role to a book keeper) is doing the system administration, designing the network and doing the 5 year planning for the organization. In other words the technician and even a good system administrator are not qualified to function in a 5 year planning role. Nor is there a role that is in conflict with the system administrator making sure the system administrator is following best practices. Finally most of these vendors are assuming that a network is a network, so as long as they build it and control it, the business should be fine.
Systems have technical failures, but fix for future problems isn’t a technical solution. Rather the solutions should be to fix the business organization in the IT group.