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The Dynamic Synchronization of Strategy and Information Technology

In an often overemphasized focus on efficiency, many companies turn to packaged information-technology systems to manage business processes. University of Michigan Business School professors C.K. Prahalad and M.S. Krishnan suggest they should be more concerned about strategy — and getting line managers and IT managers to use information systems in ways that facilitate strategic change.

A new applications-portfolio scorecard helps managers assess information infrastructure before making investments. Six key considerations are each IT application’s role in strategy, whether the knowledge embodied in the application (say, salaries in a payroll application) is stable or evolving, how much change will be needed, where the application will be sourced, whether the data is proprietary or public, and the application’s freedom from conformance defects. Those parameters differ for different functions. Managers may not need the latest software for a stable function. They may decide not to purchase a customized package, because it could be out of sync with the vendor’s future software. Only those companies that deeply analyze what they need from each IT application will acquire the right portfolio.

The authors’ work with 500 executives revealed that few managers believed their information infrastructure was able to handle the pressures from deregulation, globalization, ubiquitous connectivity and the convergence of industries and technologies. Though fully aware their organizations lacked rapid-response capability or flexibility, the managers rarely knew how to fix the disconnection between the quality of IT infrastructures and the need for strategic change.

Considering that information-infrastructure expenditures are generally 2% to 8% of companies’ revenues, new measures to address the disconnection are essential. A corresponding change in the mind-sets and the skill sets of smart line managers and IT managers also is helping improve overall competitiveness.

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