Recession Or No, We Are In It For The Long Haul

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While all around are making short term decisions, you have to keep you head, and make sure your long term goals are still in the picture, says Jonathan Steel

Talking to journalists last week, HP Labs director Prith Banerjee highlighted research as a key to the long-term success of HP. One quote from the ensuing coverage struck a chord:

“Innovation is not for the next quarter, it is for the next two years, five years from now. The key is to invest in innovation that truly matters.”

Leaving aside the uncomfortable fact that IBM has been using that exact phrase – “Innovation that matters” – for the past three years, he is right. The problem is that business is generally short-sighted about the future, and particularly in these straitened times.

It’s easy to understand why. Executives focused on this year’s bonus or promotion and who may not be around in three years anyway have little incentive to consider the future; stock markets react on a daily basis, mainly to perceptions and sentiment; even governments are prepared to spin on a sixpence when the tabloids turn against them. But allowing conditions this month or in the next quarter to influence strategic decisions is shallow thinking at best, and wilfully damaging at worst.

There is a problem for you here (and you probably already know this…): as a senior IT professional you are expected to keep delivering reliable service to your business, and most probably with fewer resources these days. The only way to do that is to be working with a properly architected, flexible and resilient infrastructure (to minimise non-elective spend), and dial down the number of change projects you take on (to minimise elective spend).

But building a flexible and resilient architecture requires long-term thinking, and short-termism is officially enshrined in many parts of IT, starting with the procurement process. The continued importance of simple ROI calculations for example can make it hard to persuade executive managements to sign off projects that demand a longer-term vision for success.

What to do? As usual in IT, all the pieces of a solution are out there, and few have anything to do with technology. For those running IT facilities, there are worse ways to start than by following a simple 1-2-3 rule:

  1. Ensure that your top strategic goals are clear to everyone (including yourself) and cut projects that won’t add value before someone else cuts them for you
  2. Determine what capabilities that IT needs to support or provide are critical for your organisation
  3. Ensure that new requests from the business take you towards your strategic objectives and those capabilities, not away from them.

Let’s consider those in slightly more detail:

1. What are your strategic goals? Perhaps it’s long-term cost reduction through standardisation, or improving information integration and availability for faster decision-making. Whatever the objective(s) are, there are three core features that you should judge every initiative or project against. They vary, but are most often cost, business contribution, and risk.