Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Things to do before I die #67385: Write a good IT Strategy Book

I was recently asked by a client for an example of an "IT Strategy". Although the language, grammar and punctuation all seemed to make sense, the sentence struggled to be processed by my brain. I couldn't, at the time, express in words why this was such a difficult request to satisfy. With the benefit of some time to mull over it and a blog, I will explore this question now.
In short, an IT Strategy is a very difficult thing to nail down. Perhaps this is why there are (by my reckoning) only three books stocked by Amazon on IT Strategy:
By way of comparison, Amazon stocks thousands of titles about IT Service Management (search for ITIL) and there are at least 11 books which were 'written' by Katie Price alone... I gave up counting (and near enough the will to live) on page 2 when I realised that other authors have seen fit to write about Miss Price too.
Advanced Searches on Google for IT Strategy .doc documents are similarly fruitless, or at least bear largely unpalatable fruit. We can put aside that most such documents are commercially confidential because there are usually enough exceptions in the public sector- or leaks! The results are there (all 6,460 of them) but invariably these 'strategies' are more tactical in nature rather than a strategic framework to support business cases, projects and service management decisions. Frequent bloopers are wish lists of projects and esoteric statements such as "we will buy only Microsoft" (whether or not you drink from the Microsoft fountain this is a dictat which helps in too narrow and exclusive a way). Still, poor examples there may be, but all this criticism is actually neither here nor there if the result is of the highest possible value which the IT function could make to the organisation.
Before I continue, I should explain this is an exploratory article so I welcome any further contributions as to why there are few books on IT Strategy.
First of all, the valuable component of an IT Strategy is not really an object. Yes, there is a document (or all manner of communications media) as a deliverable, but it is the exercise of going through the process of designing, developing, implementing and reviewing IT strategy which provides immeasurable value to an organisation.  You can have a great document, but only with alignment to the business, education and ownership will the organisation use it to great effect.
Any IT Strategy worth its salt intrinsically links to, is guided by and enables the Business Strategy, so often the deliverable is contained within a deliverable of wider scope. This also leads us to conclude there are as many IT strategies as there are unique organisations. Yes, IT strategies often share common themes, but although boilerplate may be a helpful starting point, it will ultimately constrain or miss opportunities for the subject.  What is fit for purpose (in process and deliverable) for one team is not fit for another organisation.
So, this explains why a definitive reference for IT Strategy has not yet emerged. Perhaps we should ask the prolific Jordan to give it a go?