Have you ever had the feeling that the high-profile, well-paid consultants developing information-related strategies for your organization were a waste of time and money? They may understand your company, strategy and pain points, and their recommendations or plans may be correct, but the result of their work seems so detached from reality that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to realize. As a result, it is parked on the shelf of strategies along with all the other documents and plans produced over the years.
It’s not that we as business managers don’t understand the need for proper planning and strategizing, don’t want to think strategically or don’t see the value in developing strategies to meet objectives - we simply struggle to execute the plans following the strategy process.
If you realize that information in your organization is a valuable corporate asset when managed as such, then a strategy for reaching the goal is required. I often hear statements along the lines of “We don’t do strategies!” or “We choose to implement an IT solution to meet the objectives.” I understand and sympathize with these declarations and accept the fact that some companies have previously invested in strategies that either failed or were never implemented to harvest the expected business benefits. However, that does not change the fact that information as a valuable corporate asset is not a simple function of delivering your current or future project portfolio. You still need a plan.
Managing information as a corporate asset often requires large changes to an organization in order to align processes, programs and projects, define roles and skills, document architectures and identify needed technologies. All these activities are major changes that may be implemented as a program itself, or initiatives attached to other programs related to change, such as mergers and acquisitions, a new ERP roll out, regulatory compliance initiatives or the like. Hence a plan or a strategy is needed in order to implement this change, which leads us to the core of the problem: the strategy.
The What, Why, How and Who
So why do companies fail in implementing strategies, including the ones that cover information as an asset? Our experience tells us that the problem is one of two things:
- The strategy is launched by IT and remains an IT strategy without involvement or buy-in from the business side. These strategies tend to primarily focus on architecture and technology while rarely containing a link to the strategic objectives and, therefore, lack the commitment from the business. They get into a great level of detail with names of technology components and methods for implementation. If they have a value justification (or business case), it’s typically focused on IT infrastructure savings, performance, data availability and so on.
- Or the strategy is driven solely by a business division and, as such, doesn’t cover enterprise perspectives, resulting in multiple similar strategies being defined and deployed across the enterprise. The outcome of this is that the business divisions or organizational units owning the strategies are not aligned, and since we are talking about information as a corporate asset that must be managed at a corporate level, the strategic objectives are simply not met.
Without a strategy or plan for answering what you want to achieve with information as an asset, why you want to achieve it, how you want to get there, who should do the work and who should be involved, and lastly, how this work is connected with other work that is going on in the organization, then the likelihood that you will reach your objectives is small.
I recommend that a plan or strategy always be developed for initiatives that cross the boundaries of organizational units as well as initiatives that are new and strategic to the organization involving information as an asset. This is even a requirement for small to mid-sized businesses, but the task of making the strategy in these organizations can be executed in a much shorter time span than, for instance, in a large bank.
Defining the strategy shouldn’t be a long-lasting and scientific process. It should be possible to develop a strategy for information as an asset within two to eight weeks, depending on the size and complexity of the organization. The work to be carried out consists of three simple phases:
- A discovery phase consisting of trawling existing relevant material and conducting interviews with various stakeholders.
- Define and design the strategy – answer the what, why, how and who.
- Finalize deliverables, document findings and proposed roadmap.
A strategy must be a deliverable for both business and IT. It must ensure alignment between the two in order to secure consensus and a common understanding of why we want and need to do anything at all. Ideally CxO representatives from both business and IT should approve it, but as a minimum, business owners/sponsors must sign off the final deliverable. It is important to ensure involvement from both “camps” to avoid business prioritizing objectives that are difficult (if not impossible) for IT to deliver, and to prevent IT from defining needs for supporting solutions that are not prioritized by the business.
As a bare minimum, an information strategy should describe:
- The link between strategic corporate business objectives and the need for information availability, i.e., which problems are we trying to solve or which benefits are we pursuing, what is the expected value of this initiative, who are we trying to please and why;
- High-level architecture to accommodate the business requirements;
- The high-level analysis of technology needed to meet business and architectural requirements;
- A suggested organization to implement and maintain the change, including skills, roles and governance model;
- A list of policies required to maintain sustainability;
- A three-year roadmap for implementation;
- And finally, a suggested first step in implementing a project to add tangible benefits while considering all of the above.
A strategy for transforming information into an asset can be a waste of time and money if it doesn’t deliver the above content; in particular, it is important that it be used to create some level of consensus between business and IT, and it must have a tangible outcome in the form of a project that can bring the strategy into action. Furthermore, it is crucial that your organization is prepared to execute on the findings with a broad awareness and acceptance of the strategy. Without that commitment, the risk exists that other important business issues may act as a distraction and that the strategy will end on the shelf.
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