Monday, August 3, 2015

Standalone Technology Strategy Is Dead. Long Live Stand Alone Tech Strategy

Every now and then I read something which sends me in a time machine chuckle.  I think to myself, "Self, haven't you read this already, like 20 years ago?"

"The days of building a standalone technology strategy are over."
This is the final line in a post on Outsource Magazine.  The idea is some orgs have moved all of their tech to the cloud, so there are no systems in house requiring tech support. SO hey, we don't need no stinking standalone tech strategy. Let's just completely integrate our tech plan into other areas.  It'll be great, THEY say. Everyone will help drive tech strategy and it will rock, THEY say.

I say get over it. The need for a standalone tech strategy still exists even if all of the systems are in the cloud.
If you have more than one system, who will think about integration?
If you have devices to access the cloud, who will think about those?
If you have staff using the technology, who will think about support and training?
If you want to re-engineer processes, who will do the mapping, solution planning, etc?
If you have new features released, who will think about how to use them?

I could go on and on. Not to mention, the need for someone to step back and have a vision for technology across the org.

Let's jump back to 1993. This model about Strategic Alignment from Venkatraman summarizes things for me.  We will always need technology thinking to happen from four different perspectives.

You can read about the model, but in essence it shows a need for technology strategy to:
  1. Start with Business Strategy, drive process, end with tech implementation 
  2. Start with Business Strategy, involves IT in definition, end with tech implementation
  3. Start with IT Strategy, suggest Business Strategy change, end with change process
  4. Start with IT Strategy, implement tech, end with change process

There are real needs for each of these types of strategy and without a standalone tech strategy to harness, drive and push these, how well do you think things will end? I picture a skyline consisting of a city of half built buildings without a tech strategy.  As long as you are in the middle of the city with your eyes down, getting the daily work done, you never notice the buildings don't get finished. But someone stepping back to view the horizon can see it clearly.


Peter Campbell said...

So, once again, I would debate you. I read the article, and I think what he's saying is not that you don't need to have a technology plan, but that the plan has to be distributed across all of the business unit plans. If an organization really does get that technology planning should not be done in a silo (such as the IT Department), then this could be a really healthy development. With a few riders, of course. It doesn't mean that each VP should decide, in their silo, which technology they are going to deploy. He points out that this is a case for organizations that are already in the cloud, so, if you've made that investment in Salesforce or Azure, and have an integrated and adaptable platform to build on, then there is much more call for the subject matter experts to define the technology needs than there is for IT to do it. This all assumes that the management team is collaborative. For many NPOs, it's still a bit pie in the sky. But it's exactly what I'm working towards at LSC.

I had a big win last week, and we'll be building a new Grants Management System on the Salesforce platform, integrated with Box, which we are currently rolling out as our Grantee data repository. We have the platform. When I got here, the scenario was one he described - business units identify their needs and look to IT for a solution. But I threw it back on them a bit by hiring in Business Process Analysts to work with them and get them more familiar with what their data management systems could and should do for them. The steps from here to a year where they each have technology sections in their business plans that assume development on our existing platform are pretty minor. But we have that crucial mix - IT manages the platform; business units define the processes. I'm getting close to practicing what I preach at this job than I ever thought likely.

Steve Heye said...

Yes, I think we are saying the same thing. The best technology strategy is an integrated one.

Strategy and planning should be an org effort, including tech planning and strategy as an integrated element.

However you want to word it.

But saying there is no room for a standalone technology strategy is crazy to me. Where will the tech security strategy be integrated into? Yeah, the HR\marketing team can totally train staff and determine policy. whatever.

Or I love this quote in the article: "Secondly, acquiring technology is now easy. C leaders do not need a technology function to do that. It is simply a matter of being able to fill in an online form and make a payment." Yeah, totally who needs an RFP, business requirements, integration plans, security understanding, whatever.

Collaborative management is ideal in my opinion too! It is totally what I was working on at The Cara Program. Steering Committees, assigning business decision makers\owners of tech projects, integrating planning, etc. Totally agree. But in the end, I always had my own standalone technology strategy to make those things happen, plus ensure security, stabilize systems, support users, create policies, etc.

Peter Campbell said...

Okay, I missed the "acquiring technology is now easy". Acquiring technology should at least 15% as much work as deploying it. Our process for deciding on Salesforce included an RFP (written by the same consultant that ran our business process analysis, so she knew better than me what the software needed to do for us), 40 hours of demos, thirteen half hour reference checks and a 26 page memo on the decision. We worked our butts off to vet this one, particularly weighing the custom Salesforce option over a flexible Grants Management software package. But it's a huge investment that we plan on lasting us ten or more years. It would be stupid to just buy something that looks suitable and hope that it would work.

Peter Campbell said...

BTW, we did an RFP for a data management platform when we selected Salesforce, and we sent it to NetSuite. Some guy named "Geilhufe" declined to participate. ;-)