Setting IT Strategic Priorities

An excerpt from ‘The Executive’s Guide to Information Technology,” which describes four levels of effective tech management.
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IT strategy gets a lot of ink. Lengthy treatments of how IT should “align with the business” and “be strategic” or “treat the business as a customer” highlight the difficulty of achieving this. Through our work at Technisource in outsourcing IT departments we have identified the common actions and priorities that differentiate the most successful operations.

IT Pragmatism

it managment

Excerpted from The Executive's Guide to Information Technology: 2nd Edition

The best CIOs use a tough pragmatism to ensure well-functioning baseline operations in IT at the least possible cost. Trouble-free basic operations give CIOs the freedom to focus on developing effective working relationships with senior executives, building a deep understanding of the business, recruiting the best talent to their team, and keeping up with industry and technology changes. Focusing on these things ensures that the CIO is able to identify, advocate, and execute meaningful, business-changing initiatives. CIOs who fritter their time and budget away on firefighting or the wrong priorities invariably preside over the worst-run departments and the lowest business and IT staff satisfaction.

tech cartoon

Bamaland, by Walt Guthrie, used with permission of the author.

Building a solid trouble-free baseline of IT operations is the top priority for the CIO. If these areas are not operating effectively, the organization will have little interest in strategic projects. CIOs are often prone to distractions and get these priorities out of order, worrying about strategic alignment before stabilizing the basics. As illustrated in the cartoon, the CIO must foremost be a pragmatist and make sure he is worried about the “fish food.” Senior executives love pragmatists, especially in IT. A pragmatist with vision will find an eager audience. A visionary without pragmatism will not.

To emphasize this point, we have designed a conceptual model for thinking about IT priorities similar to Maslow’s well-known hierarchy of needs. Levels I through III (the bottom three levels) are internally focused on operations, infrastructure and applications. The top two levels are governance and externally oriented.

tech pyramic

Level I: Operations and Infrastructure

The base level is all of the systems, staff, processes and infrastructure required to provide basic utility services. These include such things as desktop and laptop computers, e-mail, printing, file services, networks and network hardware, telephones, reasonable security. These are considered “lights-on” applications; like any utility, if you cannot deliver these, no one cares about anything else on the hierarchy.

Level II: Business Supporting Applications

Once the need for stable basic infrastructure is satisfied, the next level of the IT hierarchy is concerned with establishing the basic applications that support the business. Back-office systems provide functions for basic accounting and other internal administrative functions.

The front-office systems are used to operate the business. Their functions vary widely depending on the industry or type of organization they support. For instance, typical functions for a manufacturing company would include order entry, customer database, manufacturing planning, inventory management, and distribution.

At level II, the functions on both the back-office and front-office area should provide rudimentary functionality.


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