Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Information policy best practices 2: the Information Technology Department perspective

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on December 1, 2013

This is my second installment to a series on the shaping and implementation of basic policy governing the collection, processing, storage, access and use, and deletion of information in a business, with its mix of public knowledge, and sensitive and confidential raw data and processed knowledge (see Part 1: reimagining a business in terms of its information.) I begin here with Information Technology for two reasons:

• This department plays such a central role in addressing the issues of this series and in making information management possible, and
• This department is so frequently stereotypically viewed and even by its own team members and in ways that militate against its effectiveness in that.

Information Technology is a department of narrowly focused technology specialists who have limited interest or abilities outside of their one defining and career path-limiting realm. That is the stereotype but for good IT team members and for good IT departments, hands-on technical proficiency is only part of what these people bring to the table.

• Good IT personnel also have good communications skills and an ability to translate what could be opaque technology jargon into understandable and actionable form for their non-tech colleagues. And they know how to listen effectively as well as speak so their efforts offer meaningful support for the business as a whole.
• They, and certainly their departmental managers and leadership need to know how the technology that they manage fits into and supports the business as a whole, and how their effort fits both operationally and strategically into that larger context.
• Their leadership, certainly, should be very cognizant of the issues and challenges faced by their colleagues from across the business and how effectively selected, developed and maintained technology can serve as an overall business enabler and across all functional areas of their business.
• My point here is that if IT and its people are all narrowly focused on the technology side of matters and at the expense of not understanding or addressing how or why it would be used, they become a cost center and a liability to business effectiveness, rather than a source of meaningful solutions to problems. An effective IT department adds real competitive value here.

And this brings me very specifically to the issues of this series.

• A simple and unadorned consideration of the technology per se, of an IT department can only tell you something of the How side of that department.
• Bottom line, What this department does is all about information management. And this takes place at a business process and business procedure level, and with a goal of enabling the overall business model in place. Available technology and best of breed technology solutions change and rapidly, but the basic, core business model and process capabilities that they are supposed to facilitate can and usually do remain fundamentally stable and settled, and over long spans of technology development and implementation and across entire technology generations.
• With that in place, this posting is all about this What, and more specifically about:
• Knowing what data and processed knowledge is held at a business and by whom there,
• Knowing its level of sensitivity or confidentiality and tracking if and how that changes when it does, and who should be allowed access to it at any given point in this cycle,
• And how all of this is to be handled and maintained through its information lifecycle where that might mean eventual deletion or long-term archival storage.
• IT serves as the hands-on gatekeeper for implementing and enforcing this information management system and for identifying and limiting any violations of access or usage controls in place.

IT maintains and at a business level owns the technology infrastructure that this all takes place in and that data is stored, processed, and accessed through. Ultimately, it is IT that has to enforce and take functional ownership of information classification, and information access and control policy.

I am not arguing a case that narrowly focused technology specialists do not exist and I am not arguing a case that they cannot serve useful and even essential roles in a business. I am arguing that their individual strengths and limitations do not define their department as a whole, any more than the more narrowly specialized experts of any other department or service fully define their overall functional areas or their implementations. A good Information Technology department fits into and supports the overall organization and its overall operational and strategic processes as a whole. And ultimately this connection holds most strongly where overall information management and its policy and its vetted implementation are established and where they take place.

• Long term and from a strategic perspective, the most important word in the label, Information Technology is information, and the technology side to that is simply its How.

I am going to switch directions in my next series installment and consider Marketing and Communications in this, and the challenge of meeting their needs, and how they see and use information. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3. You can also find related material at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory.

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