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Still Building Shanty Towns

Updated: Feb 6, 2022

Version 2.0

It saddens me to think it necessary to repeat lessons taught over 30 years ago. Back then, companies like DHL and FedEx, led the way in the express parcels business. In many ways, they blazed the trail for global logistics. And today, this underpins the operating models of Amazon and Alibaba.

The strategic value of information is innate to these brands. They treat long-range investments IT the same as investments in, such as:

  • vehicles (planes, trucks & vans)

  • transportation & logistics facilities.

These investments were made with a strong understanding of strategic value. The sort of value that might not see a return in the short-term. But after five years, the impact is clear, delivering growth multipliers, of the order of x2, x3 or more.

Many firms struggle with a strategic view to investment in information technology. They continue to see the IT function as a second-class citizen. A whipping boy whose only function is to serve "the business" masters. rather than an equal business partner along with Operations, Sales and Finance.

The tell-tale signs are piece-meal IT solutions to parochial requirements. These reflect the views of the operation-focused, rather than the strategically focused. This leads to sprawling information systems 'Shanty Towns'. These impede strategic development. And increase the technical debt caused by duplication and repeated rework. These organisations become 'Too busy hand-ploughing to go to the tractor show'. They don't see the need for a joined-up business & systems architecture. And 'architecture' (a path from AS-IS to TO-BE) isn't understood to be a strategic enabler.

I accept that IT departments have, in part, themselves to blame, often too focused on technology. And in the case of enterprise architecture', too focused on arcane frameworks. Frameworks like The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF). Eight hundred pages of business meaningless guff.

IT leaders should learn about selling strategic value from their business colleagues. You can bet your boots they didn't use an architectural framework. With the aid of a couple of presentations and lobbying, they can have an investment in air fleet approved.

It's not good enough to say that IT must only serve the operational whims of. 'The Business'. IT is no longer a 'Dark Art' to be locked away in a box. It goes without saying it is part of everything we do at home and at work. So why is it so often treated as somehow different compared to say, Operations, Sales and Finance?

IT can make a huge contribution to strategic value. It's all down to the right attitude at the C-level (as I learnt from my 11 years at DHL). It starts with the CEO and her leadership team. When they look at the longer-term future, the con