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Building a Holistic IT Strategy Using a Top-Down, Bottom-Up and Middle-Out Approach

Part 2 of the “Cloud Capable – Now What?” Series

Dion ShingBy Dion Shing

The modern business environment is fast, fluid, complex and ambiguous. Businesses in all markets are embattled and face challenges and threats both internally and externally.

In order to adapt, survive and thrive, business strategies should be fluid, adaptable and innovative. From an implementation perspective, strategy should be well communicated to all levels of the organization.

Challenges in IT Strategy Definition

IT StrategyFor many organizations, IT strategy definition occurs infrequently and is based on protecting current position and revenue streams, not taking into account feedback from middle and front line tiers of the business.  Furthermore that strategy is not clearly communicated to the business, or even within the IT organization.

This broken process for strategy definition results in tactics and plans that are often watered down, inadequate and not geared towards leveraging the unique strengths of the company.  For example, a company may say that their strategy is to “improve operating efficiency and provide excellent customer service.”  This strategy only brings their IT department up to par with everyone else, it does not provide any competitive advantage.

To find unique and creative competitive advantages many enterprises adapt an inclusive approach to strategy and develop frameworks such as Top-Down, Bottom-Up and Middle-Out.  This approach recognizes that IT is not only a support function that underpins business processes, but a source of competitive advantage that can provide innovative services that will help drive the strategy and success of the company as a whole.

Top-Down, Bottom-Up and Middle-Out

On their own Top-Down, Bottom-Up and Middle-Out strategies are only partially effective. What is required for effective strategy selection and for the development of rationalized strategies is coordination between all three approaches.

Top-Down

The strategy is established by senior management, and filters down the ranks. Often implementation is not well supported and results are lacking.

Bottom-Up

Strategies developed here focused on specific improvement initiatives and address specific needs, they are typically managed by a single group and manager and are effective.

The downside is that the improvement may occur only in a single area, may not be institutionalized and can lead to complexity and inconsistency. Shadow IT and unsanctioned IT Services can occur.

Middle-Out

Middle management is where the strategies that enable competitive advantages can be championed and communicated.  The effective Bottom-Up strategies developed at the frontline can be supported, nurtured, advocated for and developed by finding sponsors at the executive level, elevating bottom-up strategies to top-down strategies.  Middle management is also effective at translating Top-Down strategies from High-level language into Operational activities to be executed at the frontline

Combined, these represent a force for developing action out of strategy that ultimately drives innovation and finding the illusive competitive advantages.

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Dion Shing is an Operations Architect based in Dubai.