IT Savvy – Time For A Change?

As is common in the summertime – no less work, but less meetings, not that they aren’t work of course, and also time off to (not) work in – I’ve been doing some of that pondering imponderables stuff, and reading and looking around, so here’s a few thoughts.

 Finished the new Weill & Ross book – ‘IT Savvy’ – and good as always although not a lot new if you’ve read earlier books, but then I’m not the intended audience (top executives). The themes of IT Governance and the importance of the operating model are there (ref ‘IT Governance’ and ‘Enterprise Architecture as Strategy’) but it’s probably as a tool for getting these ideas across to top executives that the book would be most useful. It picks up on some key areas and I think articulates them very clearly – although I did skip most of the case studies, that’s just my low boredom threshold.

 One of the things that’s noticeable is that there’s precious little mention of mission statements, five-year strategies, corporate management/control, and the rest. This ties in with other stuff I’ve come across recently –VPEC-T, Gartner’s Emergent EA – where the emphasis seems to be more on flexibility and fleetness, lightness of touch, facilitation not control, middle-out or bottom-up not top-down, inclusive not exclusive etc. Reference here, Peter Evans-Greenwood on ‘From doctrine to dogma’, thanks to Paul Hobson. I particularly like his comments on the knee-jerk reaction of creating an EA team to cover all the aspects of traditional EA – which smacks of the organisational psychopathology which says ‘we have a problem – so we need to create a management role to solve the problem’; said manager then needs a team; said manager and team then have job roles predicated on the existence of a problem they were meant to solve. You can see where this is leading. This is such stuff as bureaucracies are made on.

 In the current economic climate there’s a lot of discussion – for obvious reasons – about efficiency and effectiveness, and this generally ties in with focussing on the ‘core business’, whatever that might be. So we review the mission statement, dust off the five-year corporate strategic plan, do a whole load of workshops around stakeholder analysis, scenario planning, balanced scorecards etc, and try and point the tanker in a different direction, if we’ve managed to find out what that direction might be. At this point I should forego the Einstein quote about doing the same and expecting different results.

So where does this put us? – we’re doing all of the above because, we say, things have changed; things have changed radically, inexorably, transformationally; the environment, the technology, the customer, the economy, all changed, changed utterly – so we have to change as well. So we dust off etc etc – our response to things changing radically is to apply the same tools and approaches as we used before things changed radically, in the same way. Perhaps it’s time for a change.

There’s a common joke about mission statements, ref Dilbert et al, around them all being nothing but motherhood and apple pie – the generic mission statement that says ‘we will be the best there is at whatever it is that we do’ – ‘we will make the best beans in the world’, ‘we will provide the best rail services’. Well, maybe that’s not a joke, but right. Perhaps the mission statement of a University – every University – should be that we will be the best there is at whatever it is that we do. Then we define that – and that’ll be the same as well – to be the best there is at learning support, teaching, research and knowledge-transfer. Now plainly not every University can achieve that – but mission statements are aspirational, and it would be a pretty poor aspiration that was to be any less than the best. It might be helpful to apply the law of opposites (at least that’s what I’m calling it!) here – if the opposite of a statement is nonsense, then the statement is not worth stating. If you think about it, I may have just demonstrated that we don’t need mission statements.

Back to ‘From doctrine to dogma:’ – all this paraphernalia of strategic management which has (in theory) got us where we are today (although I suspect that we’d be where we are anyway and it’s just been part of the background noise) is part of the received wisdom of what you do if you do strategic management. If things have changed so radically, shouldn’t we be doing something else? Perhaps my MBA is not what it was, perhaps I need to be master of something else – if MBA approaches have got us where we are today, and we don’t like where we are, then maybe we need a new approach.

If the time has come to do things differently then perhaps instead of dusting off the etceteras, we should be looking elsewhere. Perhaps we should just say, we will be the best at whatever it is that we do, define what we do, and then get our people doing it. This is the operating model approach we see in ‘EA As Strategy’ (Weill et al) Perhaps when it comes to effectiveness and efficiency all this management paraphernalia is getting in the way (could be doing myself out of a job here). Perhaps values are more important than mission. Perhaps the best management style is to agree with people what it is that they should be doing within the context of values and culture, and then leave them to get on with it.

This has apparently had precious little to do with EA – except that I think that EA, approached properly, along with good governance and programme management (didn’t think I’d give up management that easily did you? – wouldn’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater…) can be part of the change. EA used properly articulates where we are with IT (and the business), and where we want to be, and is intended to help the organisation respond more rapidly to change, rather than be just another component of the five-year plan – it’s not meant to be another monolithic, methodology-compliant,  control mechanism for the masses. EA can help us focus on what we should be doing and do it better, and cut loose what we shouldn’t be doing at all. And in HE, we’re just at the beginning of the EA journey, so we have a great opportunity to do things differently. JFDI.


2 responses to “IT Savvy – Time For A Change?

  1. Nice one John. Really enjoyed reading it.

  2. Nice build on “From doctrine to dogma.” The challenge of adapting to change is one we’re all facing, and it’s something I struggle with both inside my current company, and with clients. I think that this is a fundamental question of how people define ourselves.

    As I commented in an email conversation that spun off from the “From doctrine …” piece, how we define ourselves is becoming increasingly important. Back in the olden days (when we used to walk up hill to school every day, in the snow) we could expect what we did, our role in business, to stay more or less the same for the duration of our career. We defined ourselves in terms of what we did, not the outcomes we delivered. “I’m an enterprise architect.” “I’m a Prince2 certified project manager.” “I’m an MBA.”

    Our tendency to define ourselves by the doctrine we learnt/developed yesterday has become a liability. We focus on *how* we do something, not *why* we do it. However, the pace of business/life has accelerated so much that we can’t expect to be doing the same thing in five years time, let alone for for the rest of our career. What we learnt to do in our mid 20’s is no longer (entirely) relevant, and it no longer works. Isn’t the definition of insanity continuing to do something the we know doesn’t work? So why, then, do companies continue to launch major transformation programmes when we know they have a low change of success in the current business and social environment?

    We need to define ourselves along the lines of “I solve problems”: the outcomes we deliver. This allows us to consider a range of doctrines/options/alternatives and look for the best path forward. If we adopt “I am an TOGAF enterprise architect” (or SixSigma black belt, or Prince2, or …) then they will just crank the handle as, too them, the process has become more important than the goal. If we adopt “how can I effectively evolve this IT estate the with tools I have”, then we’ll be more successful. Bruce Lee is a good example of this problem solving mentality. He learnt all sorts of fighting doctrines, and designed some of his own, in an attempt to break out of habit find a better way.

    A lot of these ideas are wrapped up in a 1 hour long annual presentation I do for RMIT’s Masters in Enterprise Architecture, called “The Value of Enterprise Architecture”, which you can find on my web site ( I encourage everyone to have a look, and please leave (long) comments so that I can improve it.

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