The past week been engaged in two projects; developing a business plan for a start-up nonprofit and reviewing information technology strategy for a large existing non-profit that is trying to transform themselves. Both projects have similar attributes and as I survey other organizations, it seems to be a common malady: misalignment between Business and Information Technology.
In the case of the start-up, it’s more a case of designing the business to enable the technology that provides the service for its clients. In the case of the existing nonprofit, the I.T. organization has an objective to assist the business in revitalizing itself by making itself more relevant through innovation. A quick review of the I.T. organization’s strategy and activity indicates a strong misalignment with the current business strategy.
The Startup is composed of a group of technically brilliant people all focused upon their individual technical expertise. The issue becomes how to integrate the individual work efforts of each, build and enabling infrastructure that would support the nonprofit’s mission. However, design of organizations are still an evolving multi-disciplinary activity that continues to present challenges as new disciplines need to be integrated into the design. Followed by the challenge of how-to align technology to support the workflow that the organization believes gives it a competitive advantage yields a wicked problem.
This is yielding a business plan unlike the typical plans most enterprises assemble that cover the financial aspects and minimal organizational structures. The goal of this business plan is not primarily obtaining finance or defining organizational hierarchy. Its objective is to define a roadmap for the enterprise’s initial construction, operation and evolution. As such more attention to system dynamics and relationships are its key features which will yield a series of states that are used for financial projections using options theory concepts to guide its evolution. Next week the first draft will be distributed to the team for comments.
Recently the I.T. organization had engaged a management consulting firm to assist. The result of several weeks of engagement was a recommendation to rationalize the application portfolio. While this will make the I.T. organization more cost effective, it does not necessarily support the business objective. It brings to mind the old air travel joke: “Pilot gets on the P.A. to tell the passengers good news and bad news. The bad news; we’re lost, the good news we’re making excellent time”. This I.T. organization, like so many others has focused on the technology acquisition and deployment to the exclusion of other objectives. The rational was that they were creating capabilities for the business. Unfortunately the business often is unable to exploit these capabilities because they require business people to be technologists or technologists to be business people –a rare skill and behavior mix in most corporations.
During my initial discussions with the I.T. group representatives, the sense that the rationalization strategy while providing local success for the group would not yield organizational success was confirmed. This left them with a choice; focus on their own success or raise the issue and investigate on how to realign to help the business be successful or merge both objectives. The problem with the latter two alternatives is that most I.T. organizations have never developed the competency to do such effectively. With tightening budgets and new technologies, it’s usually all an I.T. organization can do to develop minimal competence in deployment and operation of technology, so developing a practice for alignment with business gets short attention if any. This was all our hour discussion could achieve; however, it’s not the end of the activity we’ve schedule another meeting this coming week to discuss using the alignment methods I’ve been developing.