When I started in IT, Novell was the big player owning 70% of the networking industry. WordPerfect owned word processing and had the best print drivers on the market. Lotus 123 owned spreadsheets and I could go on. So now 20+ years later I am a Seattle IT Consultant with certifications in Novell, Windows and experienced as a project manager and in ITIL. The world of technology has changed dramatically, and then changed dramatically again and again. With the cloud, UC technologies and big data we can expect to see the whole industry turned upside down two or three more times in the near future. So the question is… with so much change occurring regularly how do we plan what our network will look like in 10, 5 or even 2 years from now?
My personal feeling is that the weakness in IT is that the IT department is actually a tactical not a strategic arm of the business organization. Sure we hear the term web strategy or server strategy, but in actuality these are just marketing terms. Tactics focus on the day to day execution. Strategy is not focused on the day to day. Strategy is focused on the long term picture and alignment with a long term vision. The IT department doesn’t focus on the long term. Instead technology groups are focused on getting things fixed, managed or implemented as quickly as possible.
It could be argued that there are many strategic tools that the IT department uses for technology planning. Some of these tools include;
Data repositories that include system life cycles, information knowledgebase, and historical records for tracking projected vs. actual metrics and more
Capacity Mapping tools that visually graph business capacity vs. actual technical capacity
Gap Analysis tools that identify the so call “stretching seams” in the present capacity as business grows
Unfortunately these and other tools are very static when looking at the long term future of data systems. We know that in the future technology will change and tools will change. So these tools can really tell us about what’s going on now.
True strategic planning thinks into the future rather than assuming that today’s problems will also be tomorrow’s problems. Who should be making strategic plans for the technology department? If the IT is truly a tactical component of the business, should IT be doing the strategic planning for the business? As strange as this sounds the answer is no. Now many IT professionals would argue, my CEO doesn’t even read his own email. How can this person possibly make a strategic technical plan. I think this is a good question. Yet lets look at the other departments. Though the CEO is not an expert in Accounting, the board makes strategic decisions for the Accounting department. The same is true for every department, people who know nothing about HR, Law, marketing, sales make strategic decisions for each of those departments. Why should it be different for the IT department?
Throughout my own history in IT, when the IT department has made strategic decisions about technology the department gets in troubles. Because the department is in trouble, the business quickly follows. When IT is truly successful it’s because the top level strategic thinkers in the management team have designed the strategic planning for the IT department. Working as a technology consultant, I thought my role was to represent the IT department in the board room. What I find is that I am actually representing the strategic vision and leadership of the management teams to the IT department. When the IT department follows the strategic planning of the management team everyone, including IT, is successful.