Business chiefs look for workable IT policies

Have the events of recent years fundamentally changed what chief executives are looking for in an IT strategy, and what does this...

Have the events of recent years fundamentally changed what chief executives are looking for in an IT strategy, and what does this mean for chief information officers and their strategists?

IT must deliver flexibility to survive in changing markets

Ollie Ross, Head of research, the Corporate IT Forum (Tif)

An uncertain economic climate, the threat of terrorism or war and the ubiquity and vulnerability of electronic communications have all contributed to a rapidly maturing approach to IT.

Improved communication between the board and the IT department has led to a better interpretation of business strategy in terms of IT requirements, and a greater understanding of balancing long-term IT planning with essential short-term deliverables.

The real appreciation of risk by the business has raised governance, business continuity and organisation-wide security up the list of strategic business priorities, and thus IT priorities.

Supreme flexibility is probably asking too much of complex corporate systems, but with one eye on the bottom line, and the other on gaining and maintaining competitive advantage, it will remain the ultimate IT goal for some time to come.

Make sure senior staff understand the IT strategy

Anthony Harrison, Senior consultant, NCC global

This begs the question of whether the chief executive and the chief information officer share a common definition of an IT strategy? The chief information officer's first job should be to agree this definition with the chief executive.

Many chief executives recognise that strong IT governance is a key component of successful business governance. The IT strategy is one output from the governance process. The chief information officer's job is to facilitate the development of a business-driven IT strategy by working closely with the business.

Effective governance processes will result in managers owning the IT strategy, rather than feeling it has been imposed.

Collaborate with your peers in business to win support

Chris Potts, Director, Dominic Barrow

IT, and therefore IT strategy, has dropped down the list of chief executives' priorities, mainly because of widespread and genuine doubts about its value for money.

Many chief executives are not much interested in an IT strategy, particularly if it requires significant investment. Some senior executives cannot see how spending money on IT can create real business value.

A strategy for making these links transparent and then acting on whatever this exposes is more likely to engage senior executives than a technology roadmap. Most executives know IT is neither the problem nor the solution.

Make sure you integrate as many tactics as possible into other business strategies and processes. An integrated, collaborative approach to strategy is much more likely to be valued by executives than IT pursuing its own agenda.

A chance to articulate IT priorities for the business

Richard Brown, Partner, Ernst &Young

Whether they like it or not, the minds of chief executives have been forced to focus on their IT. A cocktail of new regulations, corporate governance issues, heightened security awareness and increased accountability has shaken bosses into paying more attention to IT strategies.

The strategy will be fundamental to identifying the role IT plays in meeting the business agenda. It must also mitigate the risk of inconsistency, duplication of effort and wasted resources.

For the chief information officer this presents the perfect opportunity to articulate and gain approval for IT. This may be the first chance to codify the future state and the roadmap to get there, the value derived and investment required, the sourcing strategy and the governance structure.

But the strategy must avoid common pitfalls such as becoming overly focused on one-off technology, or one that does not properly engage with users.

The IT chief who can present a clear vision will earn the gratitude of the chief executive, who will be provided with a vital tool to manage and measure the value of IT's contribution to the business.

IT must be able to support the overall business strategy

Andrew Davies, Visiting professor of information systems, Cranfield School of Management

When chief executives say they want an IT strategy, they are really saying they want a plan of changes to IT that will support a business strategy.

IT is fundamental to the operation of the business. It provides technology to:

  • Support personal computing and inter-person communication
  • Access knowledge and information within and outside the organisation
  • Enable business processes.

The development of an IT strategy is much more complex than in the past, as all three functions and their interfaces and inter-reactions must be considered. Every chief information officer needs to recognise this change and put more emphasis on developing and maintaining a strategy.

Link IT spending plans to tangible business goals

Sharm Manwani, Information faculty, Henley Management College

Chief executives want evidence that the money planned for IT is linked in some tangible way to business goals. The business strategy may not be articulated - a common complaint from IT managers - but this just creates a better opportunity for the IT manager to take the lead role in clarifying business objectives.

What has changed? The hype and sometimes reality of e-business models has led to more chief executives being aware of IT's potential to deliver competitive advantage.

There has also been a wide investment in application replacement/integration, either in enterprise resource planning software, such as SAP, or in enterprise application integration approaches. This has led to a feeling in some quarters that there is little appetite or cash to invest in new technologies.

Strategic innovation can come from a new or enhanced business model and/or a new technology opportunity. Either way, the chief information officer and supporting strategist need to be involved in business debates.

Through their contacts, they can benchmark the elements of different business models and the role of technology in the business.

It all comes back to the basics of justifying technological investment to enable business goals, even if in the short-term this is focused on cost reduction.

THE EXPERTS

Computer Weekly has put together a panel of experts. You can draw on their specialist knowledge to solve a problem. E-mail your questions (or your own solutions to this or the next question) to computer.weekly@rbi.co.uk

NCC Group:  www.nccglobal.com

Deloitte & Touche:   www.deloitte.co.uk

Cranfield School of Management:  www.cranfield.ac.uk/som

Computer Weekly 500 Club: www.cw500.co.uk

Henley Management College: www.henleymc.ac.uk

British Computer Society:  www.bcs.org.uk/elite

Impact: www.impact-sharing.com

Dominic Barrow: www.dominicbarrow.com

Tif:  www.tif.co.uk

Ernst & Young: www.ey.com

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