Where will your IT be during the next World Cup?
It’s only four years away yet many IT managers would admit to no more than a rough idea of what their IT will be doing by the time we get to kick off in Russia. The World Cup has exemplified the challenges teams and essentially businesses face when they plan reactively or, at best one to two years ahead.
There is a chasm between football teams that adopt short term tactics and those that are reaping the benefits of long term planning. For instance, England’s traditional approach has been relatively short term; each of England’s nine managers (since 1990) have overseen an average of only 33 games compared to Germany’s 63. England’s youthful squad could pay dividends in the next world cup but does it compare to Germany’s overhaul of youth football in 2000 where they took a decisive long term strategy that would bring success a decade later?
Many IT departments have similar short term challenges, often born from having to cut costs or keep up with projects. Unfortunately this reactive approach to IT rarely gives the business any unique advantage over their competitors. It’s not unusual to see technology innovations introduced by start-ups leaving the incumbent to scramble together the funds to play catch up.
There are great examples of ‘Germany’ in the market place; most notably Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), who adopted a long term strategy focused on technology. CBA recognised the lines were blurring between IT and banking and invested heavily in technology leadership. This strategy, in no small part, is seen by the bank as driving its current success in the market. For some companies technology can be more operational than strategic, even so, a long term outlook on how that might play out for your business will pay dividends.
Committing to and delivering on a long term strategy is a management challenge in itself. In the context of technology (where the future is difficult to envisage) it takes planning discipline. A book called The Alchemy of Growth supports this with a framework called 3 Horizons that balances strategic thinking between Operational, Entrepreneurial and Futurist planning. The objective is to ensure organisations are working all levels of the innovation pipeline, this includes identifying operational gains in the short to medium term as well as assessing distant possibilities that may disrupt the market in the future.
At an infrastructure level, IT departments benefit from future state concept designs that align to the long term direction of the business. A high-level concept design can be developed (based on current and coming technologies) which provides visibility of the actions and effort required to close the gap between the current state and where you are heading. This is critical as it may well influence structural, outsourcing and people decisions in the short to medium term.
Future state planning is the first step towards developing a long term IT strategy which could yield that elusive competitive edge and ensure your business isn’t subjected to an untimely group stage exit.