by Chris Doig

How a vision statement can make IT relevant to the C-suite

May 26, 20155 mins
Cloud ComputingEnterprise ApplicationsHealthcare Industry

With marketing taking a growing slice of the IT budget and the rise of shadow IT, some people are asking if IT is still needed. See how to harness the power of vision to increase the relevance of IT to the C-suite.

For many organizations or departments, a vision or mission statement is de rigueur. The problem is that this statement isn’t used to drive decision-making. Properly understood and used, a vision or mission can bring a laser-like focus to a business, department or even an individual and help achieve new heights and relevance. In this article, vision and mission are treated as synonyms. Other synonyms include aim, purpose, and direction.

A vision statement answers the question “What is the direction?” The fundamental concept of a vision or mission is that it can never be achieved, except in a trivial sense. The statement exists to guide and align the setting of goals, objectives etc., all of which can be achieved.

When a goal is achieved, the vision guides the selection of the next goal or objective. It is this goal setting guidance that keeps the focus and alignment. When an organization doesn’t understand the difference between a vision and an objective, they can lose their way in the market.

Consider Microsoft in the late 80s and early 90s when their “vision” was “a computer on every desk and in every home.” When a goal is far enough away, it can masquerade as a vision or mission and guide the company, and this is what happened to Microsoft. When a PC on every desk was achieved, they stumbled because they didn’t have the vision to guide them when creating new goals. That is why Microsoft went from being a market leader to a company fighting to stay relevant. Lack of vision resulted in misaligned goals and lost focus.

Compare this with Apple, a company who used their vision superbly. To paraphrase Tim Cook’s 2015 commencement address at George Washington University: “Most people have forgotten, but in 1997 and early 1998, Apple had been adrift for years. Rudderless. But Steve Jobs thought Apple could be great again. His vision for Apple was a company that turned powerful technology into tools that were easy to use; that help people realize their dreams and change the world for the better.”

Think of the products made by Apple with Steve Jobs at the helm: the iPod, iPhone and iPad and how they made Apple one of the most valuable companies in the world. That shows the power of the vision. In contrast, see this video of Steve Balmer’s reaction to the new iPhone. Note that he simply does not get Steve Jobs’ vision, which may explain the difference between the success of the iPhone and Microsoft’s failed attempts in that market.

Defining the vision

The Microsoft and Apple examples above explain the vision concept at the corporate level, but the same principles apply at the departmental level and even at the personal level. A vision is built on the foundation of core values and determines how those values are expressed. An essential point is that the vision must not be achievable, except in a trivial sense. It exists to translate the organization’s (or departmental or personal) core values into objectives and goals that are aligned, achievable and measurable. The vision focuses effort and activities while avoiding the waste and distraction caused by misalignment. 

Ideally, the vision or mission statement is no longer than about 15 words, and should be written in such a way that it’s meaning is immediately apparent to anybody in that field. Don’t be deceived. While they look simple, there is usually a great deal of thought behind them, and it can take months to get them right. 

Many corporations don’t understand the difference between a mission and an objective, e.g. they will declare their mission is to become No 1 in their market. The problem is that when they achieve that objective, they are not quite sure where to go next and can lose direction. However, by rephrasing this objective, it can be turned into a mission. For example, “becoming No 1 in the market” can be rewritten along the lines of “Leading the market in…” Notice how this statement guides and aligns the setting of new goals, and remains relevant even when they achieve the No 1 position in their market.

The vision of IT

A recent survey by IDC showed a large gap between how the business sees IT and how IT thinks it is perceived. For example, some business leaders see IT as an obstacle to getting things done. With marketing taking a growing slice of the IT budget and the rise of shadow IT, some members of the C-suite are asking if IT is still even needed.

To effectively answer this question IT needs to craft a vision that aligns it with the business and maximizes its value. As mentioned above, the key is writing a vision or mission that can’t be achieved, but can be used to guide the setting of goals and objectives.

Selecting best-fit enterprise software for the organization is a critical part of the overall vision of a successful IT department, because, by definition, it will maximize the positive impact of that software on the organization. This is an effective way for an IT department to increase their relevance to the business and to the C-suite.