Why Bad Things Happen to Good IT Strategies

You did everything right. There was a steering committee, charter, process, framework, thorough analysis and an unbelievable deliverable. This was a perfect IT strategy—even the consultant said so. Then why did it fail?

Before we answer this question, we need to rephrase it. Did the strategy fail or was it the team? Let me explain.

For argument’s sake, let us assume that this was indeed a very good IT strategy; it got the key business imperatives and accurately identified the implications for IT. It also got the projects and priorities right and crafted a realistic plan of action. This team really hit the mark on all aspects of this issue.

Then how can we say that this IT strategy failed?

The focus of this discussion is on other things so let us briefly answer this question. The signs of failure of an IT strategy are everywhere. They cannot be missed. Lack of action is the most obvious one. Lack of funding for key initiatives is another one. There are many more but I hope you get the point. To be successful, an IT strategy has to be implemented. And implemented successfully.

Sometimes the best IT strategy fails because the team misses the critical factor to its success, stakeholder communications. To get stakeholder communications right, IT organizations need to understand, acknowledge, accept and implement the following.

It is the Business’ Strategy

IT organizations have a hard time accepting this fact: IT strategy is owned by the CEO not the CIO.

IT is an item on the CEO’s agenda. CIOs take their cue from that. At no point should there be confusion on who really owns this strategy. It is the business executive. The CIO is their trusted advisor and implementer. Nothing more, nothing less.

If it is the business’ IT strategy then it is logical that key business executives or functional heads be engaged not merely involved. Engagement turns “ownership on paper” into “ownership in practice.” It is the latter that makes the difference between success and failure of an IT strategy.

How do we get the business engaged? How do we know if they are merely involved or really engaged? Here are a few examples:

  • Receiving status reports on the IT strategy initiative is involvement. Writing and contributing to it is engagement.
  • Attending IT strategy meetings is involvement. Owning a deliverable is engagement.
  • Listening to presentations is involvement. Presenting a section of the report is engagement.
  • In a large organization, this is the million dollar question. The IT strategy team has to wade through a list of people sometimes 100 names long to decide whom to engage.

    Often, we get the initial list wrong. The usual suspects are all on it; those that are visible for one reason or another. Functions such as Marketing and Operations are well represented. Larger than life personalities make it no matter what their functional affiliations.

    However, key stakeholders are missing on this list and that sets in motion the eventual demise of all the hard work that follows.

    How many IT strategy initiatives involve the procurement organization? How many actively engage the HR? Getting organization charts is the beginning of such an engagement but it does not end there. IT strategy has deep and lasting implications for the entire enterprise. HR is a key stakeholder, for example, and must be actively engaged throughout the process.

    Stakeholder preferences also play a critical role. There are those stakeholders who want to be engaged whether they have anything to do with it or not, whether they have anything to say or not. Then there are those who pretend to want to be engaged but really do not have the time or inclination.