“A horse never runs so fast as when he has other horses to catch up and outpace.”
– Publius Ovidius Naso ( 43bc – known as Ovid)
IT strategic planning – the next 5 years or 500 days?
A number of discussions arose from my last blog series on CIO Dialogues regarding the future of business IT Strategies both in the private and public sectors. Many CIOs raised concerns about disruptive technologies (in particular Software Defined “things”) are changing the CIO role and its ability to continuously provide the right, effective services back to the business. It is apparent that no matter in what industry you are in, everything is moving at a faster pace than ever before – and with less predictability. Consequently, CIO’s can no longer develop their traditional five-year IT plans and be relatively safe in their “predictions.” Today they need to move faster than ever whilst ensuring a stable technological infrastructure for their business. This means they can only think in terms of “near-future IT strategies” – 12-18 months maximum (about 500 days).
A better approach is to write a shorter-term Software Defined Strategy that accounts for today’s every changing fast-paced world. Under a Software Defined Strategy, the functions that deliver IT services (compute, storage, and networking) become completely automated, with no required human intervention. Software no longer supports the business, it runs the business as more users interact with enterprises through applications and web sites via a variety of devices. The pervasiveness of cloud services, mobility, social networking and the “internet of things” means that people and processes are becoming increasingly intertwined and dependent upon each other.
This vision of a fully automated service, flexing itself to the demands of users, may sound like science fiction to many but it is just around the corner. The key is how to get there. I am continuously been asked by CIOs how to develop a business aligned IT Strategy that enables their business taking into account how it will look and feel like in the future. In addition, they need to quickly transform their business with regard how customers/citizens/users interact, in order to provide a personalised, choice-driven experience.
To move to a Software Defined service will depend on the organization’s culture and risk appetite for transformation initiatives. The CIO has three options: 1) continue to provide services with existing technology, 2) implement a transformation, or 3) a mixture of the two – which is an approach I see happening more frequently – what I call a Software Defined Stealth Strategy.
Software Defined by Stealth . . .
Not many organisations have the ability to build an IT strategy from a totally green-field standpoint, especially given the heavy investments they’ve made in the technologies that currently supports their business. Consequently, it is highly unlikely that a CIO will decide to change completely to a Software Defined Infrastructure (SDI) environment via a single “big bang” transformation.
This stealth approach means that many companies are implementing IT solutions via a “line-of-business” delivery model combining existing services with new services in a hybrid manner. For specific new business service demands, Software Defined (SD) is implemented via cloud services provisioning. Meanwhile, CIOs will sweat out their investment in existing technology to “keep the lights on”, transitioning over time to SD when the legacy technology reaches end-of-life. This in effect becomes an interim “hybrid” IT service delivery model.
Ultimately the objective of this approach is to move to SD architecture over time – you could say it “sneaks up” on you. This also provides the necessary time to transition staff skills and capabilities accordingly. This enables real business value, moving from a “waterfall method of delays and wait times” to an “agile on-demand/easy to consume methodology.”
So, to answer the question, “How do I develop a business aligned and enabling IT Strategy?”, it is my opinion that CIOs must transition their strategy to a hybrid solution that enables a scalable service that balances speed and agility with control and efficiency. The CIO’s Software Defined Stealth Strategy could be implemented in a variety of ways:
- Provide Access to business applications and data through mobile devices – using SD provisioning for new requirements;
- Use agile development to build new customer centric applications based on SD principles of continuous on-demand delivery;
- Build a data environment to deliver insights and applications on all data across a hybrid service delivery model;
- Move to a SD infrastructure and expand it to hybrid cloud services;
- Use adaptive, data-driven security to rapidly respond to emerging threats.
. . . enables timely business outcomes
Approaches like these can ultimately lead to competitive benefits such as: higher availability & utilisation, lower cost, scalability, and greater speed for apps development and provisioning. CIOs must continually raise their game, partnering with other C-level executives to:
- visualise and drive a digitally enabled business agenda
- align business outcomes with effective technological services that exploit business opportunities, and
- move their culture towards a truly aligned digital business model.
In my opinion, CIOs must change their long term five-year strategic planning process for IT infrastructure and services (whether internal or procured externally) to a 500-day Software Defined Business Planning Process in order to sustain and accelerate the momentum of enabling business outcomes at the speed of changing technology and customer expectations (or as Tom Peter said, “Test Fast, Fail Fast, Adjust Fast”). This 500-day plan is a hybrid/stealth approach that adjusts to the speed of changing technologies and business needs over a shorter time horizon which in turn will enable business growth, reduce cost and response times, and reveal ways to use new digital technologies that exploit new business opportunities whilst engaging customers more efficiently.