Minimal IT logo and link to home page
Research, training, consultancy and software to reduce IT costs
Home | About | Newsletter | Contact
Previous | Next Printer friendly
17 July 2012

Minimal IT strategy

By Andrew Clifford

The minimal IT strategy summarises how a business can manage its IT to improve long-term cost, risk and responsiveness.

Information technology - asset and liability

Information technology (IT) is a critical business asset. It improves business efficiency, and allows business to operate in ways that would not otherwise be possible.

IT is also a liability. IT adds cost and risk to business, and constrains the ease with which business can change.

To maximise the added value of IT, IT liability must be minimised. The best way to minimise IT liability is to minimise the size and complexity of IT and the demands on the IT department, while still delivering the required business efficiency and capability.

In order of priority, the three major ground rules for minimising IT are:

  1. Be clear about the role of IT in business and align IT with business responsibilities. This makes sure that IT is properly controlled and does not become an end in itself.
  2. Maximise the longevity of IT investments. This reduces the cost, risk and disruption associated with IT replacement.
  3. Exploit existing solutions and implementations where possible. This reduces the amount of IT that has to be acquired, implemented, operated and maintained.

Business alignment and the role of IT

It is important to distinguish between the role of IT and the role of the IT department. The role of IT itself, the role of the computers and the networks, is solely to automate the handling of information. The IT department has a wider role advising business on IT, providing IT services, and analysing and managing business change associated with IT.

These roles must not be confused. IT itself is not a driver of business change, and attempts to use IT to force business change waste money and leave a legacy of underused IT that continues to be a source of cost, risk and constraint. To avoid this:

  • Business ownership, direction and decisions will be established before IT solutions are considered.
  • Business process change will be defined prior to IT change.
  • The way in which IT will add value by automating the handling of information will be established before any IT acquisition or implementation commences.

It is also vitally important that IT is understood and governed by business managers.

To ensure that this is the case, IT capability will be structured into systems the ownership and capabilities of which fall clearly within the boundaries defined by business organisational structure and responsibilities. Similarly, connections between systems will reflect meaningful business information and hand-offs of responsibility through business processes. Clear and effective business ownership of all business systems and connections between systems will be strenuously enforced.

Structuring systems and connections to reflect business structure will be given a higher priority than technical efficiency. No attempt will be made to optimise business unilaterally by modifying IT structures; IT change will always follow and support business change, not lead it.

Longevity of IT investments

The longevity of IT is critical because reducing the frequency of major IT change reduces the annualised cost, risk and disruption associated with major IT change by exactly the same amount. This recognition permeates all decisions about the acquisition, development and management of IT systems.

Where IT systems are developed in-house, the priority for development, in addition to meeting immediate business requirements, is to ensure that the solution has the qualities and characteristics that allow it to be managed for a long period at low cost and low risk, and with flexibility to allow the solution to change with time. IT management will put a high priority on deliverables which have a significant impact on long-term management, such as modular design, documentation and automated test routines. The IT department will recognise and reward behaviours that increase long-term improvements in cost, risk and responsiveness, and not incentivise individuals to compromise this in favour of short-term project goals.

Where packaged IT systems are considered, the main focus of technical evaluation will be on the ability to continue to run the system without excessive cost, risk and disruption, a large part of which is to avoid being forced into difficult upgrades or reacquisitions by vendor policy. To achieve this, a large margin of preference will be given to open source solutions, and to solutions where usage conforms to viable multi-vendor standards. Similarly, a large margin of preference will be given to open source and standards-based operating systems and system software, and to non-proprietary standards-based hardware.

The business and technical environment in which IT operates changes constantly. As a general principle, it is cheaper and less risky to keep IT up-to-date than to suffer the greater expense and disruption of complete replacement of systems that can no longer operate in the changed environment. This principle will be applied in all cases, rather than dilute management effort by looking for exceptions.

Given the complex and dynamic nature of IT, it is easy to lose visibility of changes and their impact. To address this, a process of periodic evaluation and proactive maintenance will be applied to all IT systems, to ensure that they are kept continually up-to-date.

Where IT does eventually require replacement, the old IT will be aggressively and completely decommissioned, to avoid the ongoing cost, risk and constraint that would otherwise come from keeping it running.

Exploiting existing solutions and implementations

When making business system and technology acquisition decisions, we will always look to exploit existing solutions and implementations.

  • Packaged software will favoured over in-house developed software.
  • General-purpose applications will be favoured over completely bespoke applications.
  • Software-as-a-Service will be favoured over in-house installed software.
  • Cloud-based and on-demand infrastructure will be favoured over in-house infrastructure.
  • Virtual infrastructure (servers and storage) will be favoured over physical infrastructure.
  • Shared solutions will be favoured over individual solutions.

In each case, however, greater priority will be given to meeting business requirements, ensuring that the structure of the IT reflects real business structures and responsibilities, and ensuring that IT can continue to run indefinitely at low cost and low risk, and without constraining future business change.

Next: Assessments are awesome

Subscription

To subscribe to the newlsetter, simply send an email to newsletter-subscribe@minimalit.com.
Privacy policy

Subscribe to RSS feed

Latest newsletter:
Your first web app

With a unified approach, creating a web app is as easy as creating a web page.
Read full newsletter

System quality management

System quality management helps you implement high-quality systems, manage existing systems proactively, and improve failing systems.
Find out how