Expanding your IT strategy as your firm expands globally

as a firm gets bigger - and particularly if it expands overseas - what are the policies an IT manager should employ to keep...

as a firm gets bigger - and particularly if it expands overseas - what are the policies an IT manager should employ to keep abreast of cultural and legislative differences?

Global or local strategies

My company has expanded its global operation over the past year with several acquisitions overseas. As we get bigger, I must come up with an IT/e-business strategy that sits as comfortably in the UK as it does in Thailand and Spain, for example. Can you suggest areas that I should concentrate on? Will I encounter problems trying to work around all the regional laws that exist? Should I follow a laissez-faire policy that embraces all cultures?

The solution

Keep it local but with limits

David Taylor

Certus

I have seen many companies try different approaches: some have specifically looked at different cultures; others have gone for global one; a third is a mix of the two. Also, aside from cultures, there is the issue of a global IT strategy versus local power and autonomy. Here is the best solution in my experience and opinion:

  • Go for local cultures - people are more important than processes. Once the strategy has been established, in overall terms, let people get on with it

  • However, there will be huge cost saving and efficiency opportunities by grouping together the global issues as one. You must achieve a balance between these and local decision-making. Identify the key areas that must apply across the globe and those that local countries will have freedom over but the boundaries must be clear

  • Do it fast. Consult and be aware. However you will not get it completely right from the start. You will have to sell, sell and sell again any solution that you, your team and your people come up with. People in all countries will only do their best for one reason and one reason alone, because they want to.

    Create a governance policy

    Professor Chris Edwards

    Professor of Management Information Systems, Cranfield School of Management.

    The issue you are grappling with is the creation of an information governance policy for your expanded organisation. Research suggests that the two primary drivers of such a policy are:

  • the business governance policy - if the business has a very decentralised decision structure then it will be impossible to centralise any information-related decisions

  • the strategic intent in using information - if you are seeking business advantage from using information, you will need to allow a lot of freedom as the particular source of the advantage may well differ by country.

    I would begin by grouping information-related decisions such as those related to project management methods, security, which applications to develop or Web design. I would then list the advantages and disadvantages of each decision group being strongly centralised and also strongly decentralised. For instance, centralisation of Web design will portray a common image across the world and may reduce design costs, but may reduce local autonomy to act quickly and yet meet local design issues. This crude analysis may help in forming a policy on each group of information decisions.

    I would then run the logic of your argument by corporate management, then country management and finally local IT management in an attempt to secure agreement. It is critical to secure the real agreement of all these three groups as, otherwise, you will move to a laissez-faire situation whatever the sense in your logic of the matter.

    Deciding on organisational structure will be guided by this governance policy. For instance, it will be much easier to enforce standards if the local IT group has a solid reporting line to the corporate centre and a dotted line to local management. However, recognise that this logic may well need to be overridden by other issues of control.

    The problem you are grappling with is not a simple one and will, no doubt, evolve over the years, but it is worth making an effort now whilst the matter is still open. I do not think the differing legal frameworks will be your most difficult problem, but legal issues will be one of those information decisions mentioned earlier and will need to be considered alongside all the other decision groups.

    Separate general from contextual

    Robin Bloor

    Chief executive officer, Bloor Research

    The major point here is to distinguish between the general - that is common systems and common data - and the contextual. Despite the fact that the Web tramples on geography it doesn't destroy it. Neither does it destroy cultural differences.

    Try to get the maximum possible buy-in from every territory for the implementation of a common strategy for systems and data, while allowing separate contextualisation (ie the user style and interface) for each area. This means that each geography designs its own Web site, but uses common applications. Beneath this you can hopefully work out a common strategy for infrastructure and on top of it, a common strategy for support. These both tend to be general with some contextual bits.

    Coming up

  • I'm under pressure from the board to facilitate a strategy that reduces users time on personal e-mails. Obviously, I am aware that users should have a degree of freedom to use the e-mail for non work-related matters. Can you give me practical advice on an IT solution that will strike a balance between users wants and company rules.

  • A year from now our company is going to amalgamate two offices into one location in the Midlands. As head of IT, what sort of strategic plans should I be making in preparation? I am thinking of things such as my role in change management and staff retention. Isn't this a golden opportunity to dispose of the old and bring in the new?

  • Users of our enterprise resource planning package have been complaining for the last six months that they do not have adequate competencies and that our organisation offers inadequate levels in training. As a result the improvements in productivity that were expected from the investment hasn't occurred? The user group has made it clear that they believe it is our responsibility to ensure that both initial and update training is provided on these systems. We do not see ourselves as trainers, nor do we have the resources to do this, but at the same time HR claim IT training is not within their remit. To make matters worse, our company's performance is not what t it should be and management is not sympathetic to making sums of money available for training. Anyone have any suggestions on how we can get ourselves out of this quagmire.

  • Read more on IT legislation and regulation

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