What is IT Strategy?

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I do realize there are probably thousands of blogs out there that try to answer this, but it is such a fun question I thought I’d give it a try. Business partner Jim and I were off last week on a little writing retreat and this was one of our hiking talks… we talked about how IT strategies need to give organizations/ companies focus related to IT, to help make the best decisions about how to invest in technology.

So I was doing yoga tonight in my living room and apparently not effectively concentrating while in pigeon pose, because a book on the shelf underneath my coffee table caught my eye: The Boston Consulting Group On Strategy. Ah, that ended the yoga practice. I don’t know when BCG gifted this to me, but I haven’t yet read it and after a quick flip through I decided it looked pretty good (especially compared to most strategy books). Anyway, I opened it up wondering if it had a perspective on this “what is strategy?” question. Sure enough, BCG’s founder, Bruce Henderson, starts the book working to answer this question. Here’s what he says: “All competitors who persist over time must maintain a unique advantage by differentiation over all others. Managing that differentiation is the essence of long-term business strategy.”

I like this. But it that mean for IT strategy? Many think of IT strategy as the strategy for the IT organization. And many think of the IT organization as a little mini business within a business. If you follow this logic, that organization has historically been the sole provider, but these days, with outsourcing and cloud computing on the rise, that organization does have competitors. So IT strategy for an organization could be how they differentiate against their “competitors”.

But hold on… I like that if I’m a CIO trying to keep my job, but I’m not sure I like it if I’m a CEO trying to do the best thing for my company. From a CEO’s perspective, an IT strategy should more directly state how IT is applied to maintain that unique advantage referenced above over competitors. And part of that unique advantage may be strategically sourcing some or all of the IT organization and moving more of the technology to the cloud, either for cost savings or some other kind of differentiation. And if I’m a good CIO, I’m probably thinking about IT from the CEO’s perspective…

OK, that’s it for now, but this discussion isn’t over… just getting started … feel free to chime in.

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