by Chris Potts

The “Dog’s Brain” Strategy for IT

Nov 05, 20073 mins
IT Leadership

A client who’s fed up with technology being the ‘tail wagging the dog’ has called their new Business Strategy for IT “The Dog’s Brain”.

The half-formulated strategy from my ‘Too Binary’ blog is now done.  Over a period of five working days the CIO and I have had a one-hour structured conversations with each member of the executive Board. This has concluded (using a Wisdom of Crowds approach) what types of value are of high importance to the business strategy, and that the company can feasibly create by exploiting IT. 

The resulting strategy focuses on two areas in particular:  money, and people. 

On the money side, there’s work to do on the way the company conceives of, manages and executes, the portfolio of investments in change (whether or not these changes involve IT is something of a red herring).  The strategy for IT instigates a key principle that new IT investments are integral to the business change programmes that need them – that there will be no standalone “IT investment portfolio”.   It also establishes a framework for applying a communal discipline around the costs of IT to profit and cash, and has forensically concluded the best core business ratio for gauging the overall efficiency of everyone’s IT-related decisions.

On the people side, the strategy has figured out the company’s future operating model for investing in, and exploiting IT.  It doesn’t currently have an IT department for reasons I’ll explain below, yet exploiting IT is core to its business strategy.  It’s going to build a ‘customer-side’ IT function, but – stung by past experiences – people are concerned they’re going to get a quasi-supplier of IT that then acts as ‘the tail wagging the dog’.  That’s not the plan, and it’s important that people know that it isn’t.

The company concerned used to be the in-house logistics department of a major retail company.  It is now a separate entity, backed by private equity and a strategy for rapid growth. Technology is fundamental to the customer experience, and the logistics operations.

Their former parent company still provides them with all their IT.  This is now looking like a serious constraint on their strategy for growth.  As the fomer parent prioritises what the corporate IT budget is for, and ‘recharges’ them for the services they get, they are struggling to get their needs met.  Some needs ‘miss the cut’ in the priorities, and for others the corporate IT folks are just not being dynamic or efficient enough.

So hence the feeling that technology is the tail wagging the dog, and why their new business strategy for IT is called “The Dog’s Brain”.  As well as integrating IT investments into their business change portfolio, they’re going to deeply integrate IT design expertise into their strategies and operations – specifically where it’s needed to achieve the types of value they want from exploiting IT.  They’re also going to make sure they have flexible, robust and efficient sourcing of IT – day in, day out. 

As the CIO now recruits people into the company’s new operating model for IT, the tail’s days of wagging the dog are numbered.