Connecting your IT strategy to your business strategy may seem obvious. Why else would you be building your IT infrastructure other than to help grow the business? But, business goals change and sometimes they change without much notice. Your IT infrastructure may not be able to adapt fast enough, if at all. That’s why your IT strategy and infrastructure needs to have agility built into it with virtualization and automation as the key cornerstones.
Define your IT strategy
Once the executive team lays down a new business strategy it’s easy for the IT team to start planning what infrastructure they’ll invest in to support the company’s goals. However, every strategy must start with why, not the what or how. Don’t assume you need to adopt the latest technology trend. Instead, ask why would you do that? In other words, what would be gained? Is there an obvious stumbling block to be overcome? Can you quantify the benefits of a new technology approach? You need an overall IT strategy that is directly aligned with your business drivers and desired outcomes, rather than getting straight into whether you need a certain new product or technology.
Your IT strategy all starts with being clear on your organization’s business goals, but you can’t just extrapolate what you need to do directly from the business strategy. You need to translate those goals into general technology principles which don’t rely on a certain vendor or platform. Make sure you’re able to assess whether the technology principles will positively impact the business. Remember, a technology strategy isn’t about the exact platforms, products or vendors, it’s about the principles.
Some key steps in developing this IT strategy include:
- Auditing your current situation and evaluate the firm’s readiness.
- Deciding where you want or need to go.
- Choosing the reference architecture.
- Liaising with key stakeholders to clarify the business vision and ensure buy in.
- Building a program and roadmap to bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
But, don’t get too locked into that program and roadmap. A technology strategy has to be a living and breathing document which you revisit, assess, and tweak because businesses are constantly evolving.
When the business strategy changes
It should come as no surprise that a business strategy can change; decisions can be made in a matter of minutes in a board room. In some organizations the strategy shifts every few years. In others, every few months. The management team decides to move from B2B to B2C (or vice versa), to target a new customer segment, or to expand into a new country.
IT landscapes, on the other hand, have an average life span of 15 to 20 years. IT is built for the longer term but it can also be ‘brittle’. This is largely because it is based on machine logic, and logic is brittle. One wrong piece of the puzzle can crash the whole system. The other factor is that IT systems don’t operate independently; they all influence each other. So, the more expansive the IT landscape gets, the harder it gets to change it. This ‘inertia’ makes it difficult to implement IT strategy changes which keep in step with the pace of business strategy transformation.
An agile IT strategy is key
Since business strategy can change so quickly, and since that strategy sets the scene for the organization, you need an IT landscape which meets your current goals, but also allows you to fulfill future desires which you’re not aware of yet. It’s tempting to try to create this flexibility by forecasting, future-proofing or building redundancy into your system. However, forecasting is just too challenging to get right with growing traffic, increased use of encryption, and constantly-evolving cyber threats. Backcasting sounds attractive too. This is when you imagine an ideal future and try to create a way to get there. But this only works if you’re aligned with the business goals and they do not change.
What you need is strategic agility. As we’ve said, when it comes to IT architecture, it’s not quick and easy to change. Today’s architecture becomes your legacy in three to five years. When an IT strategy is successful your whole infrastructure is agile; there’s flexibility and scalability built into the very architecture. Agility is what you need to ensure you’re able to change in the future, quickly. It might not appear to have tangible results today, but it’s crucial to your future results.
How to introduce agility into you IT strategy
This flexibility sounds great, but how do we build agility into today’s IT infrastructure?
One key shift is to make your entire IT infrastructure more cloud-like. There are still some elements of the IT architecture, the physical network, fixed equipment, and appliances. But, if this infrastructure becomes software-defined or virtualized, then you gain a lot of flexibility. And if we combine virtualization with automation, we suddenly gain speed, simplicity and savings when it comes to implementing changes to our IT. In other words, we get the agility we need.
Automation at the infrastructure layer of the network has the biggest impact on overall risk reduction to network security. The infrastructure layer is the foundation on which the rest of the security stack relies. We’re talking about infrastructure configuration, posture management, patching and configuring at the level of Deploy and Configure. It’s these systems which are slower to change compared to cybersecurity software at the Respond or Assess layers, which can be added on quickly.
So, when you introduce automation to the virtualized infrastructure, you build in that agility which will prepare you for the next business strategy change.
- Simpler, more user-friendly management of operations,
- Faster delivery of services,
- Dynamic, rapid changes to capacity,
- And reduced costs as you move away from capital expenditure for hardware to a pay-per-use, OpEx model.
Having a strategic rather than a reactive approach to IT sounds like good management, and aligning that strategy to your business goals is the next logical step. However, with IT infrastructure being ‘brittle’, it’s challenging to adapt your technology as quickly as your business moves, especially when it’s impossible to reliably predict the future. This is why it’s becoming crucial to build agility into the very fabric of your IT infrastructure. It’s not enough to add on the latest and greatest product, you need to design virtualization and automation into the most foundational aspects of your IT architecture so that you can quickly, simply and cost-effectively adapt your IT capacity and functionality in step with your business needs.