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Saturday, November 26, 2016

SWOT Analysis and IT Strategic Planning

If you have been through a management course you would have certainly come across the 4 management functions: planning, leading, organising and controlling.

IT managers who are primarily focussing on the technical aspects of the job will fail in their primary role,  which is to manage the team. It is therefore important they know what their management functions are and how to perform them.


Planning

Planning is the process of looking forward in order to develop activities in advance. It encompasses defining goals, establishing a strategies to achieve those goals and developing a detailed plan to achieve a set of objectives. Planning is a vital part of the organisational and departmental strategic process, it establishes coordinated effort, reduces uncertainty and establishes goals and standards to use when reviewing organisational performance.

Organisations operate in two environments, internal and external.  Effective planning should include both, the internal and external, environments.

The internal environment includes the organisation itself and its culture. The IT manager needs to know how to influence organisational / team culture in order to lead individuals towards achieving common organisational goals. Another important reason for IT managers to know their role with regards to organisational culture is the fact that IT managers are sometimes hired to change the culture of an IT department in order to increase effectiveness and efficiency. 

There are many perspectives of an organisational / team culture that the effective IT manager needs to consider in order to plan and lead his team. These perspectives include:

  • Attention to detail - degree to which individuals focus on precision, analysis and attention to detail.
  • Outcome orientation - degree to which managers focus on results or outcomes rather than the process on how these outcomes are achieved.
  • People orientation - Degree to which management takes into account the effects of organisational decisions on individuals in the organisation (hard or soft HRM, but this is for another post).
  • Team Orientation - organising work in teams rather than individuals.
  • Aggressiveness - cultivate a culture of aggressiveness and competitiveness in order to achieve organisational goals.
  • Stability - degree of which decisions and actions are focused on maintaining the status quo.
  • Innovation and risk taking - degree to which employees are encouraged to be innovative and to take risks.

The IT manager can work on any of these perspectives in order to manage  his team's culture. Take innovation and risk taking as an example. An IT Development Manager may take a critical look at the product developed and compare it to the market needs and other similar products. This exercise may include a Gap or a SWOT analysis. Once this is performed the manager can promote a culture of innovation to plan and position his product into the market and be the first to innovate in his niche and therefore achieve competitive advantage and potentially increase his market share.

With regards to the actual process of planning, there are a few tools that an IT manager can utilise to support the planning process. These include Gap and SWOT analysis. For the purposes of this article I will describe how a SWOT analysis can be performed to support the IT Development Manager in his planning process.

SWOT analysis is a strategic planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or in a business venture. It involves specifying the objective of the business venture or project and identifying the internal and external factors that are favourable and unfavourable to achieve that objective. The technique is credited to Albert Humphrey, who led a convention at Stanford University in the 1960s and 1970s using data from Fortune 500 companies.

A SWOT Analysis will include the following:

- Strengths: attributes of the person or company that are helpful to achieving the objective(s).
- Weaknesses: attributes of the person or company that are harmful to achieving the objective(s).
- Opportunities: external conditions that are helpful to achieving the objective(s).
- Threats: external conditions which could do damage to the objective(s).

The following table is an example of some topics to include in a SWOT  analysis for an IT Development Manager:



Plans can and should be periodically reviewed and adjusted should circumstances change.

In summary, planning is a vital activity performed by IT managers. It involves looking at the internal and external environments that an organisation operates in and devise goals and strategies to achieve organisational objectives.

In the next post we will discuss the organising management function.

Friday, May 13, 2016

"It is the library of patterns that defines a good software architect"

I have recently read an interview with Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s chief software architect where he spoke about his role as chief software architect and what makes a good software architect.

Over the last 10 years I have met a few CIOs who did not believe in the role of the software architect. More often than not those CIOs left to the senior developer or team leader in charge of the architecture. That is a very dangerous practice with many negative consequences to the organisation.

Ray Ozzie says that good software architects are the ones that have spent time building and debugging applications. He says that one can learn a lot by reverse-engineering applications. The more systems you develop and debug, the more you develop an understanding of good software architecture. “It is the library of patterns that defines a good software architect”.

Ray Ozzie’s view makes sense. A good architect should have plenty of experience in order to develop a comprehensive knowledge of the patterns required to build applications. A good software architect is the one that is always researching and learning about new technologies and how to apply them to solve real-life business problems. A good architect will not reinvent the wheel, there is probably a pattern out there for most issues in solutions architecture.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

IT professionals - make it your business to know your business

Over the last few months I have been collecting the skills/experiences that feature more often in IT job adds. It has been quite an interesting little research that highlighted a few interesting points in relation to technology demands in the market.
The research was done during the 3 months leading into April and covered about 60 IT job adds. I was focusing mainly on IT management and business applications positions.

One of the main findings is the ongoing need for IT professionals to bridge the gap between IT and the business. Professionals who can understand and speak business language, professionals who can translate "IT talk" into something that makes business sense.

The following chart summarizes the skills that featured more prominently in my research.



It is no surprise to me that the two skills in high demand are leadership & management and bridging the gap between IT and the business. These are interrelated as quite often leadership relates to leading the business during a transformational phase which certainly involves bridging the gap between IT and the business.

On a side note, I hate the term "IT and the business". IT is an integral part of the business and IT professionals  should not use this language. I always work with my teams to ensure that this term is not utilized and to ensure they position themselves as an integral part of the business. Maybe I will right a post on this topic sometime in the near future.

Following are a few of my thoughts on how to bridge the gap between IT and the business. I have put all of these ideas in practice and have seen very positive results.

Business education

I got the shock of my life when I first saw my schedule as a 1st year computer science student. There were no IT subjects, I was so frustrated. All I wanted to do was to write code, instead I had to spend all of my first year, and subsequent years, with a significant focus on business, language and critical thinking subjects.

Little did I know that the focus on those subjects was going to be so critical for my career. I still remember the struggle we all went through with accounting, and get that, literature. Yes I had literature as a subject in computer science. I count myself fortunate for having that sort of foundation. The only subject we had in the first year remotely close to writing code was logic. I still remember what the teacher said in the first day, she said "This is not about computers, it is all about the business". I have kept this mantra all throughout my career.

Business education has to be a key educational component for all IT professionals, particularly if you are in the business applications area. Software exists to serve a business purpose, it is imperative for you to know  what that purpose is and exactly how your application addresses it. Furthermore having business related education will equip you not only with the expertise but also the terminology you need to be familiar with in order to communicate with business peers.

Know your business

Business applications are at the core of every business. In order to be a successful applications professional you need to know the ins and outs of your business. It is not good enough to know the industry you are in, you need to know exactly how your business makes money and what is involved in the process.

Let me give you an example, the performing arts industry. There are many different moving parts in a performing arts business. Good music, programs, artists and artistic management. However, how does the company make its money? It is not through artistic management alone, or even great programs, the company makes its money through the marketing of the performances which leads to ticket sales. There are many parts that make the whole and it is important to consider and support all parts of the business, however without ticket sales the company wouldn't survive at all. IT professionals must know and understand deeply how the business generates revenue in order to support and enable its operations.

You need to know exactly how your business makes money and all the supporting technology infrastructure and applications that support and enable its operations.

Make it your business to know your business as well as those who are running the front line business functions.
IT professionals, make it your business to know your business
Be a business professional with a lot of IT expertise

In the last few years IT strategies have gone towards business partnership whereby IT business partners work very closely with other business functions in order to drive technology strategy and implementation.

IT Business Partners must be so close to the business unit they are working with that to an external observer the IT business partner is seen as a member of that business unit.

A few years ago when I was leading the business solutions team of a fast growing organization. I worked so closely with the Marketing team that I was named an honorary member of that business unit. I did speak their language and understood their function, objectives and KPIs thoroughly. I knew the strategy was working because they considered me an integral part of their team and over time the business partner I appointed to marketing did quite well and we were able to achieve great things together.

A successful IT professional must be a business professional first, who can advise the organization on the technology opportunities that can support it to achieve its objectives. You must be a business professional first.

Taking this approach can even lead to IT professionals taking roles outside of IT. For almost one year now I have setup a business function within the Commercial area of my organization. It has been so far a fantastic opportunity despite the many challenges. This assignment will make me a far better IT professional.

Wrapping it all up

IT professionals, make it your business to know your business. The IT function must be seen and operate as a business partner to the rest of the organization delivering value that drives the business forward. In order to be a successful IT professionals you must know your business as well as you know your technology.