David Jefferson

Team resources are part of a strong IT strategy

You may think the most daunting opponent the Defense Department faces is Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard. Although that 300,000 strong unit is formidable, it doesn't keep the Pentagon brass awake at night. Simulations have shown that even under the worst scenarios, Saddam would not win a conventional war'against us, at least.

What keeps the polygonal fortress' lamps burning at all hours are officers contemplating an enemy that does not wear a uniform. This enemy has negligible formal combat training and no accountability to military authority. He rejects all of the war college theory and has adopted a practice that allows him to achieve his aims through an adaptive and shifting strategy. His purpose stays the same, but he is feared and respected because his strategy is so simple'no strategy.

Your information technology department has already set a mainframe, client-server and PC strategy. Now you're considering network computing, Internet and electronic commerce. Faster than you can collate and staple a new strategic plan, a new technology catches hold and renders your document obsolete.

If all of this leaves you wondering how to keep abreast of new technology strategies to help accomplish your agency's mission, read on.

Before your IT department can use technology strategies effectively, you must be aware of the purpose of your agency.

Strategies are like hammers. A hammer is a great tool for driving a nail into a wall, but you wouldn't go out and buy them by the dozens. All you really want'your purpose'is to hang those cherished certificate of achievement awards on your den wall.

A technology strategy is the hammer the IT department provides so an agency can accomplish its mission or purpose. The purpose may be as mundane as issuing campsite reservations to vacationers or as worldly as carrying out foreign policy. It's from here, though, your consideration of IT strategy begins. Now that you have one eye focused on strategy and the other on purpose, here's how to proceed.

Form your own guerrilla force. Call it the IT Liberation Brigade. The ITLB is your own rapid-response unit. This radical ITLB element should comprise members with complementary skills. Include a technologist, a process or business expert and a savvy creative type'the kind that can make booby traps out of Glad bags.

The ITLB should be a small group sheltered from the IT department's bureaucracy and command structure. What is its primary purpose? To discover IT strategies that can be used as effective tools in helping the agency fulfill its purpose. Its only allegiance is to the agency's overarching purpose.

This agile group will help you efficiently strategize, evaluate potential technologies, rapidly implement organizational change, exploit fast-moving opportunities and increase the IT department's contribution to agency goals. Your ITLB's greatest asset will be its ability to be out front steering the organization toward the future.

If you are successful, you will create a core team that can guide you through the strategy maze without subjecting you to more paper cuts.

And who knows? If you are really lucky it could garner you another certificate of achievement award for that den wall.
Dave Jefferson is director of technology for Highway 1, a nonprofit information technology educational consortium in Washington. He consults regularly with federal chief information officers.

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