Modern Network Architecture – Technology Strategy

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When I worked as a Seattle IT Consultant, CIO or technology architect for clients, one potential client was struggling with the concept of business strategy and asked me:

Give me examples of 'business technology strategy'. Define this for me. Tell me exactly what it is you put together for clients.”

It's a very good question and important question, though a little hard to explain.  Most people are either tactical thinkers or strategic thinkers, with the majority thinking tactically.  The simplest way to begin is to compare IT with Accounting. 

The Accounting Analogy helps us understand the complexities. There are four main accounting roles that correspond to four primary IT Roles:

  1. CFO's & CIO’s - think strategically
  2. CPA's & System Administrators - manage the day to day business accounting systems
  3. The Controller and System Architects - design and verify that the day to day system processes meet accounting or IT standards
  4. Book keepers / Technicians - track the day to day record keeping under the direction of the CPA.

The accounting system is designed so there is a natural confrontation between the CPA and the Controller.  In the same way the System Admin and the Controller conflict in healthy IT Departments.  We also see this between ITIL roles for Incident and Problem Management. 

The C-level executive in both departments will go to members of each role for specific advice, but would recognize the context of that advice and the training and understanding of the giver. He or she would also understand they have strategic roles focused on day to day activities. They are not thinking about the long term strategy, nor are do each of these roles have a big picture view of the entire organization.

The problem is that in SMB organizations, this model is not clearly defined. Someone who is a technician is expected to play every role, Including those roles who are expected to be confronting one another, such as the system administrator and architect.  

When I see network failures, I’ve noticed that these roles are not well defined.  The system administrator is also playing the system architect role.  In accounting this is a big red flag when the CPA and the Controller are the same person.  Similarly In IT departments red flags should also go off for the CIO and the CEO of the organization.

What is happening with most IT vendors and in most IT departments is that a technician (an equivalent role to a bookkeeper) is doing the system administration, designing the network and doing the five year planning for the organization.

In other words, the technician and even a good system administrator are not qualified to function in a five year planning role. Nor is there a role that is in conflict with the system administrator making sure the system administrator is following best practices. Finally most of these vendors are assuming that a network is a network, so as long as they build it and control it, the business should be fine.

Systems have technical failures, but the fix for future problems doesn't come from technical solutions.  The solutions should be to fix the business organization in the IT group.

Topics: Strategy Business Technology Business Assessment Leadership