IT Transformation: Top-Down Approach

We recently discussed the need for a plan when performing IT transformation. There are three approaches to choose from when planning. The first approach is a top-down approach. This approach educates C-level and upper management about IT transformation so that they can begin to plan and can understand the costs and benefits. In general, this approach is usually taken when the change is massive and there is a significant cost associated with such a transformation.

Costs are incurred from new software, hardware, practices, procedures, and people to implement such changes. If IT transformation requires management involvement—and for large organizations, management will be involved—management needs to be educated. The top-down approach involves educating management about what IT transformation is, coming up with a straw plan, and letting management decide how far along the IT transformation path to proceed. The further along, generally the higher the cost. This is the approach that EMC uses for its IT transformation classes. The goal is not just to transform IT, but to use the business as the driver for undergoing such transformation—to build a more agile business as well as a more agile development and IT environment.

So, what is the general straw plan?

  • Understand where you currently are within your business and how that maps to IT to determine what needs to be transformed. Education of upper management starts with an understanding of  current business, risk acceptance, and what is required currently.
  • Understand where the business is going: what new products are planned, timelines, etc.

The first few steps could take many days to understand, but the goal is for all of upper management to be on the same page moving forward. Most of these two steps could be dealing with politics, as one part of the organization may feel it has a more important business need than another. Most of the education about IT transformation is intended to help people come to a common understanding of the business requirements, needs, and politics, as well as the limitations. The goal is to coalesce around a single plan for moving forward, without politics hampering anything. Sort of like having a plan that gets implemented even though all the other little fires are being fought. Making that happen requires the education of upper management.

Whether or not upper management proceeds to the next step, a detailed plan depends entirely on their appetite for risk and decisions that are made. IT transformation occasionally stalls at this stage if the political arena is too difficult to navigate and factions cannot agree on a path forward.

After this, the next steps are pretty straightforward. Granted, they are not easy, but they are somewhat simple:

  • Understand your current IT environment and where its weaknesses lie, as well as its strengths. This includes security. It is not separate from IT, no matter how it is looked at.
  • Understand what needs to change within IT to move forward.

These require subject matter experts to help upper level management understand the business impact on IT. These should not be yes-men or no-men, but ones who can talk about IT in business terms upper management can understand. The goals at this stage are to take the straw plan and iterate on it while translating it to requirements IT can understand as well as management. One example is the need to grow the business by offering new products. Now, that could be interpreted simply as adding more capacity for the products in question to the existing environment. Or it could be interpreted as needed a brand new application architecture to handle the scale in which the application will need to run. This most likely will involve heavy automation to meet business needs for rapid product deployment.

The two answers are equally valid, depending on the organization, but the second gets you further into IT transformation.

The next step is to:

  • review the new detailed plan for ways to stage in chunks so that not everything happens at once. Change is hard, people do not like change, and they react badly to change. So, how do you stage in change in easily consumed chunks?

The last step of any plan is to understand the changes to how the day to day running of the business will happen, who is affected, what new procedures need to be developed, new roles, etc. It is a systematic look at the organization to determine the impact on the organization as IT transformation begins. Without the people there is no product, without product there may not be any customers. So we should take a very hard look at how people work today and how they will need to work in the future.

The top-down, educate the management approach to IT transformation’s success depends on the definition of success for the organization. Some organizations claim success if they can solve their political issues. Others will claim success when they can role out new product in less than a minute. Some organizations will proceed down their plan; others will halt somewhere along the plan, and still others will not even begin to plan.

Each organization is different, as is each person. People are part of any IT transformation.

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