In broadest terms, an "IT vision" is strategic approach to managing information technology (IT) departments and functions within business environments. That’s the broad view, but as usual, the devil is in the details. Read on to learn more about the value of “vision based” IT management – what it takes, who will benefit, and how it is achieved.
What is the Purpose of an IT Vision?
To understand the value of managing to a vision, you must first understand the nature of the IT function within business. IT management responsibilities are typically carried out by internal IT organizations (departments). These organizations serve a dual function. On one hand, IT departments operate to serve business interests (maximizing technology investments to fulfill business goals and objectives). On the other hand, they also fill the day-to-day "usage" needs of the end-users (employees of the business) as they perform assigned tasks and fill assigned responsibilities. This makes the end-users the front line “consumers” of internal IT services. One would assume that business and end-user interests are really one and the same – but they’re not.
In reality, business interests and end-user demands often conflict. Business interests exist at a high level, reflected in standards and policies, and end-user demands are day to day, boots on the ground, centering on the need to get work done. Sometimes one gets in the way of the other, creating a perception that IT is a roadblock rather than a partner. Having a strategic vision is one of the most valuable and effective ways to deal with this conflict, serving to ensure that business interests and front-line service needs are properly aligned to the fullest extent possible. How does it work? A good vision is all encompassing, covering every key IT service element, including how IT is organized, the specific services provided, expected service levels, and the way IT interacts with the end-user community.
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Vision Goals and Objectives
The ultimate goal of a strategic vision is to optimize IT functions and maximize related benefits in four (4) key respects:
PRODUCTIVITY. To make sure that IT fills its mission in the most productive manner possible, considering the services provided, funding available, organizational capabilities and established priorities. Why is productivity important? Productivity improves the chances for positive IT ROI and consistent service quality.
RELEVANCE. To make sure that IT services and organizational mission are consistently relevant to technology usage, organizational objectives and operational needs. Why is relevance important? Relevance leads to improved and continued IT/business alignment.
RESPONSIVENESS. To make sure that the IT organization is fully and consistently responsive to (i.e. aware, communicative and able to act) existing needs and keeps up with changing needs and circumstances. Why is responsiveness important? Responsive IT is better able to fill business and technology needs, and seek continuous improvement.
ACCEPTANCE. To make sure that IT services, policies and procedures are fully communicated and consistently enforced in order to realize maximum acceptance from the end-user community. Why is acceptance important? Acceptance equals end-user engagement, input and maximum service utilization.
It's a Roadmap, a Goalpost and a Benchmark
A strategic IT vision operates as a roadmap, goalpost and benchmark. As a roadmap, the strategic vision sets an actionable course for how IT is organized and how it operates. As a goalpost, it sets practical objectives for IT service quality, usability and acceptance. And as a benchmark, it establishes the basis by which IT services are reviewed, evaluated and adapted to suit changing needs and circumstances. That’s a lot for any one “vision” to accomplish – how is it possible?
Successful IT visions fill each role by sticking to four (4) key principles:
- Alignment: To ensure that the IT organizational model, and all related operational services and duties are properly aligned with all underlying business goals and objectives. Alignment reflects an IT operation "that makes sense" considering the business served, its interests and operational imperatives.
- Engagement: To ensure that all IT “vision” stakeholders are fully engaged in technology related planning and the operational parameters of the IT service portfolio. IT stakeholders include the IT performing organization (IT Department), company executives and the end-users.
- Best Practices: To ensure that IT operates in a standardized fashion, relying on practical management standards and strategies properly sized to technology needs and organizational capabilities.
- Committment to Customer Service: To ensure that IT services are provided in a timely, high quality manner, designed to fill the operational needs of the front-line end-users, working within the boundaries established by business interests and technology best practices.
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Looking for Benefits. Limited by Constraints.
Who will benefit from an IT vision? That’s an easy question to answer – everyone benefits - the IT department, the end-users and the “business”. The benefits are certainly not in doubt, but one fact remains - vision building is hard work. An effective, long term vision takes time and effort, and is often subject to the practical realities of common workplace constraints, including limited funding, short fuse deadlines, rapid changes in technology, and changing business circumstances. Ironically, it is these very constraints that create an even more urgent need for a working “vision”.
What does it take to get a vision developed? Just three (3) keys....
#1 Will, Intent and Commitment. You need the will, intent and commitment to manage IT according to a strategic vision. This means you must secure the buy-in of all interested and invested stakeholders as they will all play a critical role in vision development and acceptance. You must be able to communicate the intended purpose of the vision, the expected development effort, and how, once developed, the approved vision will be utilized to realize all intended benefits.
#2 Information and Input. You will need ready access to accurate information and stakeholder input to determine the organizational and operational strategies that will form your vision. To provide intended benefits, a working IT vision must be based on accurate facts and relevant information concerning technology in use, operational requirements, end-user priorities, internal capabilities (staff, funding), business objectives and overall technology mission.
#3 Process and Resources. You will need an executable process for vision development, approval, and implementation, along with all the necessary resources needed to get the job done. One key resource related “tactic” is to form a “Vision Committee”, dedicated to vision development and empowered to make planning decisions needed to see the vision through all of the planning, approval and implementation phases.
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