Tuning IT to Help Drive Business Strategy

As IT shifts from technology maintenance to business strategy, it becomes more valuable throughout the organization. How can an IT team or director facilitate shifting to more strategic actions? Nigel Fenwick at Forrestor offers four steps that can help IT leaders manage the shifting demands on time, projects, and company goals. The heart of Fenwick’s suggestion is about helping the company clarify what projects and investments provide most value in fulfilling company goals and moving company forward. If you’re caught in the middle between competing projects and energies, Fenwick suggests the following four steps:

  1. Get agreement on your business capabilities.
  2. Identify your strategic capabilities.
  3. Focus on developing strategic capabilities.
  4. Simplify generic capabilities.

The first two steps involve both identifying and clarifying capability. It is important to know what a business does both inside the walls, on the road and with partners (other businesses, vendors, and even customers). Before meeting with company leadership, it is helpful to talk with other departments and understand what they do and who are their partners outside the company.

The first list (business capabilities) may be an extensive list that offer a good snapshot of the entire company.

The second list (strategic capabilities) is shorter refined list. This may be a bit of a challenge because it involves whittling down the first list. It involves suggesting that not all capabilities are equal. In the advertising world, this used to be calling your unique selling point. What capabilities are distinctive and strategic to your long-term success? For instance, Amazon may be known for great prices, but their logistical mastery is more strategic in the long-term.

The challenge is to distinguish capabilities that are strategically essential to your business and what capabilities might be considered generic. These generic capabilities are important and even fundamental to day-to-day operation, but they don’t drive company goals or long-term success. As you talk with the leadership team, it may takes some back-and-forth to clarify these two lists, but in the end, it can help drive investment in time and money and long-term planning.

Kenwick’s third point is that strategic capability should drive decision-making related to priority of projects and investment. When there is a question of how best to use resources, it is important that an in-house IT department works towards strategic projects that in bring the highest ROI.

When it comes to the generic capabilities, IT can still play a role. Simplification is the key. In many companies, these generic capabilities have been known to turn into daily fires that soak up the focus and energy of executives and the IT team. The goal should be simplifying these generic tasks, so that they don’t steal time and money from strategic actions.

IT leaders can work with business executives to decide the best way to simplify tools and tasks, outsourcing as needed. In the end, IT will free up time to focus on what brings the most long-term value to the company while also saving the company time and money on tasks that are important but not always strategic for the bottom line.

1. Nigel Fenwick. “Four Steps Toward Reducing IT Complexity and Improving Strategy.” February 22, 2013.