This is the 2nd in a multi-part post on assessing IT Capabilities.  (See Part 1)

A Quick Recap

Part 1 introduced some assessment principles I’ve found to be important.

  1. The Process is more important than the results.  I’ve found facilitated self-assessments to be the most effective.
  2. The results must be actionable. An assessment must give you insight into what needs to be improved, with what urgency and in what sequence.
  3. The results must be multi-dimensional. For example, address performance, value delivered and health of a given capability.
  4. Process-based assessments only go so far – and may in fact be misleading! Not all IT Capabilities are process-based.  Some depend more on standardization of deliverables or the outputs produced by a capability, and some depend more on special skills and training. Concluding that a given Capability might be highly mature or highly immature might have nothing to do with its ability to deliver excellent results!

Capability Defined

There are several aspects to defining Capabilities:

  1. What is meant by “IT Capability”?
  2. What is the potential landscape of IT Capabilities?
  3. How do you know what IT Capabilities you need?

Let’s examine these in turn.

What is Meant by “Capability”?

Wikipedia defines Capability as:

The ability to perform actions. As it applies to human capital, capability is the sum of expertise and capacity.”

A couple of things to note about IT Capabilities:

  1. While Capability Maturity Models such as CMMI put processes as the central construct of a capability (and the key to capability maturity assessment), in practice not all IT Capabilities are inherently process-centric.  Some depend more on people’s skills and competencies (think Business Relationship Manager, for example) while others depend more on deliverables than they do on specific processes.  (For a more detailed treatment of this distinction, see Part 1 in this series or my earlier posts on Henry Mintzberg‘s seminal work on organizational constructs.)
  2. You don’t need to “own” any given IT Capability – you can “rent” it as in outsourcing or contracting, for example.
  3. Not all IT Capabilities exist in an IT (or IS) organization.  Some are embedded in business units or other organizations.  For example, the capability to chose, procure and maintain personal computing devices may belong to the business – think “Bring Your Own Device” or “BYOD” as this rapidly growing movement is often referred to.

What is the Potential Landscape of IT Capabilities?

I’ve covered this topic in some depth previously in my posts on IT Organizational Clarity, but as a quick recap, below is a normative, high-level IT Capability Model.

Normative IT Capability Model

One can debate the specific labels for each of these capabilities, but essentially, any enterprise that depends upon Information Technology to any degree needs each of these IT Capabilities.  Of course, the devil, as they say, is in the detail, and the detail exists in the drill-down decompositions for each of these high-level IT Capabilities.  We will get more into this in Part 3 of this series.

How do You Know What IT Capabilities You Need?

There must be a clear and explicit linkage from Business Strategy to needed IT Capabilities.  There are many methods for achieving and expressing this linkage, and this is the realm of strategy formulation.  At its simplest, a given Business Strategy will require a set of Business Capabilities.  In turn, most, if not all Business Capabilities will depend upon one or more IT Capabilities.  Common techniques for achieving this linkage include:

But, IT Must Not Only Satisfy Business Demand – It Must Stimulate and Shape Demand!

The big danger with most strategic alignment methods are that they are inherently reactive.  i.e., To enable “x” business capability or strategy, we need “y” IT capability.  But how do you know that the business strategy is properly informed by IT possibilities?  This is where the first in the Value Chain Capabilities (see graphic above) comes into play – Discovering Business-IT Potential – and where the role of the Business Relationship Manager is so key.  So, you don’t just need the IT Capabilities the business thinks it needs – you also need IT Capabilities that create IT “savvy” and equip the business to understand and fully exploit IT potential.

Coming Up Next…

In Part 3 of this series we will examine assessment dimensions and methods.

Graphic courtesy of LipheLongLurnERrdok

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