IT Vision Thing

May 23, 2008

As a SMB business manager, I am sure you have had to deal somewhat with vision.

Perhaps for an elevator pitch for VC capital,

Maybe for an IPO prospectus.

Maybe even just so that your customers know what you actually do.

Do you have an IT vision as well?

You should.

This vision should be a lesson in simplicity, it should have no jargon or technobabble. But it should be a clearly articulated road map for the future.

And yes, it should be revisited regularly. Now this vision will not be as complex or tough to build as the vision required for some change initiative, but it should exist and be articulated and communicated by senior IT staff as required.

Complexity Kills

As a post I did here states, complexity causes instability, instability causes breakage, and breakage causes downtime and costs money.

Simply put, this vision will articulate what technology platforms and tools your business is going to utilize. And it should be the road map that limits this complexity.

Unfortunately, in the SMB space, we often find IT complexity that is completely beyond the bounds of reason for our organization sizes.

By complexity, I mean technology sprawl. There is absolutely no reason for the average SMB to have more different kinds of technologies, tools and architectures than a company of IBM’s size has.

That may be exaggerating – but it happens all too often.

A year or so ago, I remember speaking to an IT Manager at an SMB sized organization that had several facilities and a good customer base spread along a couple of lines of business. This business was using three different database management systems, four or five different classes of server operating systems, and several different tools that actually performed the same function for different operating units.

Consider just the direct upfront licencing costs of all of this software and hardware, Now consider the expertise and time required in the care, feeding and maintenance of all of these. And we will avoid even considering that a customer of two business units will have separate customer records from different tools each unit uses.

This organization did not have an articulated IT vision. So one business unit manager wanted a particular tool that happens to run on MS WIndows Server and MS SQL Server, while another business manager wanted a similar tool that ran on Linux and Oracle Corporations Database Software. And a third enterprise tool ran on a Novell server etc etc.

Your technology road map vision may be partially dictated by customer or supplier linkages, or you may be lucky and can define it the way you prefer from the ground up. The important thing is to define it. Regardless of which architecture and platforms you choose, emphasizing that these are the corporate standards will reduce the costs associated with end less sprawl.

Will there be deviations? possibly. But my advice to you is to demand a good business case to support it.

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2 Responses to “IT Vision Thing”

  1. elliotross Says:

    Thank You Chip,
    In larger organizations you will find that the terms they use are IT Governance and EA – or Enterprise Architecture. You will find bundles of data on that. I will try and get some stuff for you and email directly.

    But, in general; think of it this way.

    You want to define a future state, or goal, that will make things easier to manage (and save money)

    Example, you have multiple sites connected via wide area network links. But the switches etc are all “dumb” meaning you can’t tell what is going on. So a part of your vision is intelligent, managed devices that can be controlled and managed from a central console.

    Example, You have a forest of no-name PC’s with various operating systems that you have to patch manually – you have a goal of standardizing on hardware and operating systems that support centralized management (ie MS System Centre or others)

    Example, your organization has chosen Linux, Apache and other open source tools in the LAMP stack, so your goal could be that if a new program or tool is requested – as part of the process, the tool should support your chosen platform.

    Example, You are a distributed organization and already utilize tools like Citrix Presentation server or MS Terminal Services, so tool sets can support a web browser, or remote desktop. If you don’t use those products, perhaps the tool has to be web based.

    After a quick look at your web site, your vision can help reduce costs by ensuring that a property management application and a staffing app utilize the same infrastructure. Or a project management tool does not require a whole new operating system to learn.

    That does not mean it can only be one thing. (I was in property management for a long time,) so you may have an old facilities tool and billing app running on an AS/400 with something else running other apps.

    But defining those “Ground Rules” and getting that signed off, can mean the difference from a new tool that fits into your existing environment, or one that forces a whole new environment along with the associated costs in licencing, hardware, learning, maintenance, etc.

  2. Chip Burns Says:

    Elliot, I finally have convinced leadership that we need an IT Vision. Can you point me to some reference materials, templates, books, etc., that will help me draft this?

    I enjoy your blog very much – keep writing!

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