The 4 foundational points of strategic IT leadership

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The other day I was speaking with my team and discussed the concept of getting out of IT while you can. As you might imagine, this caught many by surprise. I confess, the statement was intended to capture their attention and to be thought to provoke.

My aim was to challenge us to think about ourselves and our team beyond the realm of IT. At a high level, stop thinking about the lines of business as customers, but more as co-workers or partners. In challenging our assumptions, I feel it allows us to focus instead on driving strategic value to our organization.

As we think about strategy, the first thing we need to do is to establish some foundational points:

1. There is no such thing as IT strategy alone. We can't lose sight of the fact that IT is a part of the business. The strategy we drive with our IT resources must tie directly to the overall strategy of our business. If our IT strategy doesn't, we are wasting our time, money, and resources. This will most certainly lead to a failed effort to bring strategic value.

2. If you haven't already done so, stop thinking about IT being isolated from the rest of the company. Often members of IT refer to the other parts of the organization as the business. If this is how you or members of your team view things, I want to challenge you to think differently. Start thinking about your team as part of the business. I would submit IT is just as valuable to the company's success and bottom line as any other department within the organization.

3. While it's easy to think about IT as a service organization, be careful not to see yourself or your team as subservient to those from other parts of the company. As challenging as it may be, stop the practice of referring to people from outside of the IT group as your customers. Refer to them as your co-workers. The purpose behind this is to enforce the concept that IT is a peer of other department groups and can drive the business from a strategic perspective.

4. That leads me to the term alignment. Instead of thinking we must align our efforts to the business, which, by definition means to give support — I'd submit the real opportunity for IT is to lead the organization through times of change or disruption.

With foundational points in place, IT can focus on ways to develop its strategy. So where do we start? I’d love to hear from you. Where did you start?

Rob Zelinka is the Chief Information Officer for Jack Henry & Associates (JHA). JHA is a leading provider of integrated technology platforms financial institutions need to process financial transactions, automate business process & manage mission-critical customer and business information.

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