Alignment - Welcome to the Heart of Europe

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We may like it or not: The "virtual reality," Peter Cornelius had (unknowingly) described as early as 1973, has become a reality by now: "I am living in a cloud, that is my own world!" As technological development keeps accelerating, one constantly needs to ensure not to miss that train and keep up with the pace of change! Deeper interest in information technology inevitably touches on important points such as the imminent need of strategic alignment with business functions as well as views on the most beneficial employment of technology, including virtualization techniques, and the trend of outsourcing IT responsibility "into the cloud."
(We want) Information
Information Terminology. "We want information" is a classic quote from the 1960's TV show "The Prisoner," which has inspired Iron Maiden to a song of same name. While everyone seems to want more information these days, IT in its role as an information provider has been met with limited appreciation over the years. IT gurus with their incomprehensible gibberish (or technical talk) have been held in the basement to avoid contact with the necessary evil that is usually just noticed, if something doesn't work. Just as the business solves customer problems, one goal of Information Technology is to make end users happier. Although some may fantasize, how nice it could be in IT, if there were no computers and no users, as a matter of fact IT is not just there to blame, if something is not working, but also to appreciate, when it enables us to do more faster. Information Systems include process, data, applications and underlying infrastructure and telecommunication. Collecting, processing and distributing data, IT is expected to make things happen and provide solutions. And it usually does... by performing constantly and reliably in the background.
Strategic Alignment. Fed by management, organization and technology, information systems help to develop the business solution in response to a business challenge and help to solve customer problems (ideally, more than they create). IT plays a key role by collecting, processing and distributing data. Strategic alignment ensures the tight cooperation among business goals and IT, which leaves its sole affinity to technology behind, in order to service the company on different levels. With its "information pyramid," IT supports better informed management decisions, acts as a value-adding innovation driver, enables business processes and supports day-to-day business operations. In order to fulfill its future role as an innovation driver, the inclusion of information technology into the overall business strategy is key. Understanding that as by Henry Mintzberg, the deliberate and intended strategy may be driven by external influences into an emergent strategy, frequent directional changes require regular alignment. While the operational view mainly focuses on "doing things right," the strategic approach targets at "doing the right things."
In order to keep up with progress, one constantly finds himself in need to ensure not to miss that train and keep up with the pace of change. The above pictures remind me of the Scorpions lyrics: "Wake up man, it's late, but not too late... and catch your train." Then again, thanks to Information Technology, one can work on the train or while being in transit otherwise.
Run or Advance? Mintzberg's five P's summarize the ideal nature of a strategy: Plan, Ploy, Position, Pattern and Perspective. Strategic development typically consists of environment analysis, strategy development, evaluation and selection of a strategy, leading to alignment of organization and leadership. The implementation happens through mid-term tactical planning and incorporation into the annual objectives as well as the budgeting process. Asking the right questions may help, as so often: What is our business (sales plan)? What are we famous for (marketing strategy)? What do we do better than our competition (core competency)? Which challenges did we successfully manage in the past (which problems exist at the market)? One just needs to come up with the right answers.
Daily Duties. A typical IT department has got operative (day-to-day), tactical (mid-term) and strategic (long-term) duties. Principal characteristics of IT architecture combine infrastructure, management and interfaces to the business. Infrastructure consists of hardware (switches, router, cabling, server, etc), software and offered services, such as consulting, outsourcing or a hybrid model. Development follows the steps of conception, realization and introduction (installation, launch). It includes business process modeling, design, requirement engineering, change management, build and test. System Integration goes back to the connection between people, task (resp. process) and technology.
System Portfolio: A Mirror. Assessing an IT portfolio strategy, Conway's law comes to mind. It states that IT systems will inevitably reflect the organizational structure. Companies tend to reproduce their communication setup in their system design. Thereby island solutions can find their root cause in territoriality, organizational silos, and predominant departments' self-interest (a.k.a. "Bereichsegoismus"). Web design of corporate sites tends to rather reflect internal views than real needs of the broader customer community. Success Factors for strategic development include the concentration of forces to the core competence, a focus on the strengths rather than weaknesses, creation of an appropriate and workable organization, learning to think in alternatives and saying goodbye to favorites solutions. Overall, the principle of simplicity rules. Clear, easily understandable concepts can be communicated broadly and effectively.
Partially Successful Operation. Success Behaviors include intuition and instinct, luck, thinking out of the box and especially insistence. The make or buy decision determines benefits of in-house production over external sourcing. This applies to manufacturing of products, intermediate products and components as well as for services that can be purchased from a supplier. This includes outsourcing of IT equipment that had been formerly operated on premises into "the cloud" Strategic. Mistakes can be classified in three types: The "go-error" creates a flop. This happens, when a product is developed with the back to the market. The "no-go-error" misses the connection by overlooking new development. The problem becomes obvious, when the current business model turns into a dead end and one is thrown into severe business crisis. "Errors of the third kind" solve the wrong problem exactly right, along the lines of the saying: Operation successful – patient dead!
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