Frameworks for digital strategies

What is a “digital strategy”?

A digital strategy is a way to achieve organizational goals by using digital technology. It is a plan to move from the current state to a better, more desirable state based on digital technology. A digital strategy specifies changes in activities and assets, how those changes will be made, and how any problems will be addressed. A digital strategy also enables better use technology at lower costs by information sharing and standardization among organizations and between sectors.

A digital strategy framework provides a logic and structure that makes the strategy easier to create and implement. Learning about and working with frameworks increase digital readiness, the ability to implement a digital strategy.

Four frameworks

Four strategic frameworks are the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), Gartner’s pace-layering approach, the Agile methodology, and open source. Each framework different, and focuses on different aspects of building, deploying, maintaining, and using digital technology.

ITIL

ITIL[1] is focused on standard practices for IT service management, for making sure information systems consistently perform as expected. It is also a lexicon or set of well-defined concepts for this purpose. ITIL starts with organizational objectives and requirements. It provides structure for translating those requirements into service designs, transitioning to the new services, managing IT service operations, and improving performance. ITIL puts a heavy emphasis on measurement and control. It was created and is most widely used in very large organizations, and can be difficult to adapt to smaller organizations, which includes almost all organizations in northwest Georgia. Regardless, the concepts and practices in ITIL are effective for ensuring that information systems are effective and reliable.

Pace-layering

Gartner’s pace-layering[2] takes a very different approach, focused on applications. Pace-layering is intended to resolve the tension between using IT to tap new business opportunities and the imperative to control costs while achieving business objectives. Pace-layering categorizes applications’ functions in terms of their general function and rate of change. “Systems of record” manage essential data for an organization, including processing transactions. Accounting exemplifies a system of record. These are common to most all organizations and have long lifecycles. Applications that provide functions unique to an organization or industry are referred to as “systems of differentiation,” which have medium lifecycles. Short lifecycle applications meant to capitalize on specific opportunities or explore new markets are referred to as “systems of innovation.” The utility of this approach is that allows for different yet connected strategies for each type of system.

Agile

Agile is more of an approach, methodology, or even philosophy for development, than it is a strategic framework, similar to Lean for manufacturing. The core idea of the Agile is to develop software (or most any user-facing information system) via multiple short by intense cycles, or sprints. This contrasts with the traditional “waterfall” approach of gathering requirements, planning the project, building the software/system, and then rolling it out. Agile involves multiple small, self-organizing, cross-functional teams, called “scrums,” rather than a few single-function groups (application developers and database administrators, for example). Agile delivers better products faster than the traditional approach, especially when requirements are uncertain, technology is changing, and people are willing to work together without supervision.

Open source

Open source refers to software for which the source code is freely available. It is written collaboratively by programmers, so anyone can contribute but all contributions are open to review (and criticism) by any. Major corporations and government agencies use open source software extensively, particularly for websites but also for key enterprise applications. Even leading technology companies like IBM have incorporated open source into their core business offerings. While open source is available free of charge, it requires significant expertise to install, configure, and operate it; which is how tech companies make their money from open source, by charging for professional services.

Open source has come to have the broader implication of any work that is done in a manner that is intended for others to copy and adapt to their own needs. The open approach has been applied to everything from automobiles to education to innovation.[3] Indeed, “open” has become something of a fundamental approach. In particular, this approach is being applied to making government data readily available. For examples, https://www.data.gov/open-gov/ is a portal to government data sets and https://chattanooga.demo.socrata.com/ provides data from a wide range of public agencies in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

[1] ITIL.org; “What is ITIL®?” ITIL, http://www.itil-officialsite.com/AboutITIL/WhatisITIL.aspx; “Information Technology Infrastructure Library,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_Technology_Infrastructure_Library

[2] “Pace-Layered Application Strategies, Fact or Fiction?” Adrian Bridgwater, Dr. Dobb’s Journal, February 17, 2012, http://www.drdobbs.com/architecture-and-design/pace-layered-application-strategies-fact/232601066; “Accelerating Innovation by Adopting a Pace-Layered Application Strategy,” Yvonne Genovese, Gartner, January 9, 2012, https://www.gartner.com/doc/1890915/accelerating-innovation-adopting-pacelayered-application

[3] Specific examples are Local Motors (https://localmotors.com/), the Open Education Database (http://oedb.org/), and InnoCentive (https://www.innocentive.com/).