Your IT Should Think Like IBM
Strategic thinking was a hallmark of CEO Samuel Palmisano's tenure; your IT department can emulate his approach.
Sometimes the most basic and broad questions produce the most enlightening answers. The questions can stimulate the thinking and planning processes for making strategic decisions. On many occasions, the IT and communications staff are so deeply embedded in day to day decisions that the big questions are either never raised or they are ignored. Sometimes the strategic planning process is too intimidating for IT management because they have been more focused on operations, which is their primary skill set.
How the enterprise proceeds can depend on several factors--all of which can postpone making the strategic decisions--such as:
* The enterprise is satisfied with the present vendor(s).
* The CIO likes working with a particular vendor.
* Strategic IT and communications decisions are postponed because other events have a higher priority.
* The strategic decisions need input from the business units, and they do not have adequate knowledge of IT and communications to participate in the strategy planning.
* The enterprise needs to hire an outside consultant for help because the enterprise staff does not have the time, knowledge or experience to develop the strategies.
* The turnover of IT management has led to a reevaluation of IT and its goals, causing a pause in the strategic planning.
* The strategic plan has been poorly developed and presented, and the enterprise executives are not sold, so IT must invest in improving the plan before presenting it again.
An article in the New York Times, January 1, 2012, "Even a Giant Can Learn to Run", quoted four questions that outgoing CEO of IBM, Samuel J. Palmisano, posed when he took over the helm of IBM. He made the IBM staff consider four strategic questions and the results made IBM grow, enough to get Warren Buffet, who typically doesn’t invest in tech companies, to buy a stake in IBM.
The Times article stated, "During [Palmisano's] tenure, IBM has been a textbook case of how to drive change in a big company--when so much of the study of business innovation focuses on start-ups and entrepreneurs."
This column is a glimpse of the thinking behind some of the major steps IBM has taken under Mr. Palmisano's leadership, based on two recent interviews with him.
He says his guiding framework boils down to four questions:
* "Why would someone spend their money with you--what is unique about you?"
* " Why would somebody work for you?"
* "Why would society allow you to operate in their defined geography--their country?"
* "And why would somebody invest their money with you?"
"The four questions, he explains, were a way to focus thinking and prod the company beyond its comfort zone and to make IBM pre-eminent again. The pursuit of excellence in those four dimensions shaped the strategy."
Those in IT and communications also need to think strategically as well as tactically. The systems and tools available for IT and communications have become dominated by software and cloud services and less so by hardware. Hardware in most cases has become a commodity. Hardware has actually decreased as a share of the IT and communications bills.
The strategic questions that keep rising to the surface for IT and communications groups--especially as they relate to Unified Communications--are:
* How will UC beneficially change the enterprise?
* Who should be using UC features and functions in the enterprise?
* Is a single- or multivendor solution the best choice?
* How much UC should be provided by the cloud? (complete solution or hybrid?)
* How long should IT plan to retain a UC solution: 3, 4, 5 years, or anticipate that the UC solution provider will always be the best of breed?
* What barriers need to be overcome to federate UC with customers and other businesses that exist in the enterprise, and how will they be removed?
* Should the enterprise separate the hardware and software solutions or proceed with a common vendor?
* Will the UC solution help the enterprise to stay ahead of the curve, and if so for how long?
* How should the enterprise IT and communication staff be trained, retained and developed to keep up with the continuing implementation of UC features and functions?
Note that none of these questions deals with the technology solutions to be selected and implemented. Thinking too much about specific solutions can mask their strategic weakness and lead to a less than satisfactory implementation of Unified Communications.