Value-Driven IT

As  the weather did not fully cooperate on the last week of my vacation, I spent some more time catching up on my reading, including reading Cliff Berg’s Value-Driven IT. I have to admit that Cliff sent me the book some months ago, but it has lain too long on my desk while I travelled the world. I am glad that I have taken the time now.

The overall thrust of the book – as described in it’s sub-title is Achieving Agility and Assurance Without Compromising Either. Cliff describes himself as “…an IT architect at heart, but one who has had business-level responsibility and who appreciates the business side of things.” In the book, he “makes the case for connecting business value with IT efforts” and goes on to recognize that “this has been tried countless times before, but today only a minority of firms are able to make this connection. It is a hard problem, and the gulf between IT and the business is as great as it ever was. The view from the ground is not pretty: ground level IT staff have a deep disrespect for policies, compliance, paper processes, and indeed for the entire mindset that is represented by the parts of the business that represent these. This is due to ignorance and a lack of communication between these two important parts of the business. The view from the middle is not pretty either: mid-level executives in IT and in  business units do not know how to change their organization s to address the resistance that they experience when it comes to implementing change. Finally, the view from the top is best characterized as misinformed: executives think that their IT staff have a handle on their technology and the executives do not realize how far their people are from having the skills that are really needed to get the job done.”

The book has four main premises:

  1. Business Agility – lead by a potent champion for change, with a mission to ensure consistency;
  2. Assurance within IT with regard to risks – with the champion for change introduced above having a mission to ensure that all enterprise concerns are addressed in a balanced manner;
  3. Accountability (transparency) for IT decisions – focusing on quantifying and measuring the business value of IT choices, recording the reasoning behind IT decisions, and measuring the actual value produced by IT; and
  4. Amplification – increasing IT’s value by using IT resources to amplify the effectiveness of the rest of the organization and being more transparent about IT’s value when this amplification is achieved.

Implied (and made explicit in the book) in these premises is that business value needs to be integral to IT. Yet, Cliff shares my view of the current state of IT governance saying that “the term ‘IT governance’ as used by the IT industry is a legacy of the separateness between business and IT.” As Mark Lutchen, says in the Foreword to the book: “Business value and IT – For some executives, even placing those words in the same sentence can be considered an oxymoron. Others might argue that you can focus on achieving business value and get it right or you can focus on delivering IT and get it right, but never the twain shall meet. I would argue that the real imperative within organizations today is to ensure that business value and IT are so commingled and intertwined with each other, that to not focus on getting them both right or to not understand how dependent each is upon the other, is to set up your organization for potentially disastrous failure.”

I couldn’t agree more. Having, over the last couple of weeks, read this book, and Stephen Jenner’s Realising Benefits from Government ICT Investment – a fool’s errand, which I discussed in a previous post A Fool’s Errand, I am pleased that more practical guidance is being offered in this space. At the same time, I am once again left wondering just how many more books need to be written about this topic before more than a minority of enterprises start doing this. To repeat Donald Marchand‘s conclusion in his testimonial to the Stephen Jenner’s book: “The big question is will [public sector] managers and executives have the “will” to put the book’s prescriptions and methods into everyday practice with ICT projects?” History would suggest that we still have much work to do before this happens – and not just in the public sector. Much of what I and others have been espousing over the last 10 – 20 years, and what Stephen and Cliff present in their books, is common sense – unfortunately, as I said in my last post, common sense is still far from being common practice!

Why is this?  As discussed by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton in their book The Knowing-Doing Gap, “…there [are] more and more books and articles, more and more training programs and seminars, and more and more knowledge that, although valid, often had little or no impact on what managers actually did.” There are many  proven approaches available to address the challenge of realizing business value from IT investments, including, but certainly not limited to Val IT™, yet adoption of these approaches continues to be limited and, as a result, value from IT investments remains elusive. One of the key findings presented in The Knowing-Doing Gap is that knowledge is much more likely to be acquired from ‘learning by doing’ than from ‘learning by reading’ or ‘learning by listening’. If we are to move beyond reading and listening to taking action, we need to focus on understanding the behavioural constraints to adopting such solutions, and identifying and implementing approaches to overcoming those constraints. Ultimately, as I discussed in an earlier post, Managing Change – The Key to Delivering Value, it all comes down to changing people’s behaviour – from the Board to the front line.

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