This post was inspired by some recent discussion on the IT Operating Models Group on LinkedIn.  Pär Nilsson, the Group’s moderator, posted the question:

What do you see as the cornerstone of an IT operating model?”

This question created some interesting discussion, from the insightful to the disdainful (but accurate!) observation that:

Operating Model is one of those buzz phrases that can mean different things to different people.”

Every IT Organization Has an Operating Model!

One of the noteworthy aspects of the discussion was that several participants seemed to view an IT Operating Model as something you may or may not choose to have.  I think that’s wrong – all IT organizations have an IT Operating Model.  The only questions, for me, are the degree to which the IT Operating Model is:

  1. Effective? (i.e., delivers what the business needs in the most effective ways)
  2. Efficient? (i.e., makes the best possible use of assets and resources)
  3. Clear to all those that depend upon it? (i.e., stakeholders in and members of the IT organization)
  4. Healthy (i.e., continuously improving and sustainable)

Way Beyond the Organization Chart!

In many IT organizations, the only explicit manifestation of the Operating Model is an organization chart!  This is an incredibly limited (and limiting!) way of expressing an Operating Model.  It says who reports to whom, but not what gets done or how it gets done.  It tells you nothing about decision rights, key metrics or the portfolio of services.  It tells you nothing about needed competencies or rules of engagement between functions and groups, or between the IT organization and its clients/customers/partners.

So, wherever you are, you do have an IT Operating Model.  You might not understand it.  It might be implicit rather than explicit. It might be badly broken.  But you still have one or you would not be able to ‘operate’.

The Cornerstone is Context-Dependent!

My response to the initial question was:

I think that all depends on the business context and business demand maturity against IT supply maturity. For example, for some environments, IT processes are the cornerstone; for others, it is business-IT governance; for others it is figuring out the proper balance between IT services that should be shared across business units, versus those that should be embedded in business units.  Ultimately, all these aspects (and many more!) are key – but you can’t address them all in one go, so figuring out where to start is the first trick!”

The Keys Are Organizational Clarity and Health

So, I believe that the keys to IT organizational performance are:

  1. Defining what a healthy IT Operating Model would deliver – we might call this the IT Strategy
  2. Defining how a healthy IT Operating Model would deliver that IT Strategy
  3. Ensuring that the IT Operating Model is clear and transparent to its primary stakeholders

And I further believe that very best way to achieve these is to engage those primary stakeholders in:

  1. Clarifying the IT Strategy
  2. Clarifying the IT Operating Model
  3. Continuously improving the IT Strategy and Operating Model

Web 2.0, Anybody?

And it won’t surprise any of my clients, colleagues or regular readers that I believe that the tools, technologies and sensibilities sometimes referred to as Web 2.0 can be an excellent enabler of IT Strategy and Operating Model clarification and continuous refinement.

Graphic courtesy of Kinsale

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