Big Thoughts, General Technology

The four pillars of O’Reilly’s IT strategy

This week I delivered the detailed framework for a 3-year IT strategy for O’Reilly Media, Inc. The strategy is the culmination of several months’ work to fully understand the current state of the business and the vision for its future. Together with the goals for growth, the strategy focuses on many of today’s common IT requirements, such as: delivering more for less; increased agility; greater access to decision-enabling data; and improving customer service. It also directly addresses stress points in the existing technology environment and forms the basis for the IT organizational design required to support future business goals.

As I wrote about in a previous blog, it was essential that the context of this strategy consider O’Reilly’s culture of innovation while introducing the right level of predictability. Too much of either unmanaged innovation or codified predictability could limit our ability to grow and, in my view, be a recipe for IT failure.

While there is considerable depth and breadth to the strategy, I will share the simplified, four core concepts on which it is formed. Each is essential to move us forward. I’m not giving away any secrets here, as these are all fundamental concepts. But, it does achieve my objectives of being highly transparent in our thinking and for providing ideas to others.

The four pillars of our IT strategy are:

1. Governance

IT governance is all about making smart choices in allocating scarce technology resources and being accountable for the resulting performance of those decisions. These choices include those that consider cost, risk, and strategic alignment. While governance almost always exists in some form — i.e. without it being explicit, somehow decisions get made — maturity and predictability of process will really only be achieved by clearly understood and agreed upon governance processes. We’ll focus on the right quotient of governance, lest it stifle and suffocate the things we do really well.

2. Architecture

As systems become increasingly interdependent and a small change in one application can have significant downstream impacts, it’s no longer possible to take a narrow, single-system view of solution development. New requests must be handled with an end-to-end process mindset. Introducing new capability will now require an architectural perspective that considers qualities such as reuse, standards, sustainability, and data use. Over the medium- to long-term, smart architecture can lead to higher-quality solutions and reduced overall costs.

3. Strategic sourcing

Contrary to popular belief, strategic sourcing does not automatically equate to either staff reductions or outsourcing. Sure, unfortunately for many organizations this is the way it has manifested, but for many others it is about creating flexibility in identifying and temporarily acquiring talent from wherever it can be provided when it is needed. That talent may be internal, for example: Is there someone outside the IT department but within the business who can help with a project on a temporary basis? But it could also mean quickly finding a scarce development resource in Argentina. We’ll use strategic sourcing as a supplemental talent management approach to developing and supporting technology solutions.

4. Hybrid cloud

Historically, many organizations, including O’Reilly Media, built and hosted their own IT solutions. There’s often good reason to do this, particularly those systems that use proprietary innovation and are essential for market differentiation. Outside of this category, IT has become increasingly commoditized — i.e. basic services offer no competitive advantage but are essential to core business functions (think of email or file storage as examples). Utilizing more commodity-based IT products and services enables the IT organization to elevate its value proposition: to work on the most complex business problems and be a true enabler of business growth. At O’Reilly Media we’ll continue to build out our internal cloud infrastructure and pursue more external cloud capability and software-as-a-service solutions.

We’re under no illusion that making significant progress in all four of these areas will be easy. There’s a level of change management that will challenge us in new ways. But we’ll gauge the pace as we progress and make corrections as necessary. To me, inherent to our strategy is the capacity for flexibility. It’s not possible to get everything right, but it is essential to quickly correct when things go wrong.

I’ll continue to report on our progress and I welcome your feedback.

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