IT battle plans

“I view really great strategies as a commodity, and implementations of really great strategies as rare objects.”

– Jim Cannavino, former CEO of Perot Systems Corp.

Maybe it’s just semantics.

A bunch of readers commented on my recent column asserting that CIOs and CTOs should spend most of their energy dealing with strategic and tactical matters while delegating infrastructure, which I equated to the military concept of logistics, to others.

Among the comments: “Amateurs talk strategy; professionals discuss logistics.” This correspondent, along with quite a few others, mentioned numerous examples in which bad logistics lost battles. I agree: Bad logistics can lose battles, as when the Spanish Armada literally ran out of ammunition fighting the British fleet, which was able to re-supply because the entire engagement was fought in the English Channel. But this misses the point. Of course bad logistics can lose battles. But that doesn’t mean great logistics can win them.

The lesson for you: Bad infrastructure can make even the best applications unavailable. Great infrastructure is invisible. Do you want to be invisible unless there’s a problem? I didn’t think so. Delegate infrastructure; focus your attention on strategy and tactics.

Or maybe on “operations” in its military sense. IS Survivalist Ralph Hitchens informs me that military theorists have added this as a fourth level of military planning.

Above it all is the nonmilitary concept of “policy.” “We’re going to stamp out terrorism” is an example — a national goal that military action can help advance. “Strategy” determines the overall objectives of military action and identifies the major campaigns that should be fought to realize them so as to help achieve policy. “Operations” decides which battles to fight and how to deploy forces to fight them to win campaigns.

Organizing business change has significant similarities. Enterprise-scale change corresponds to the strategic level of planning. Call the organized effort of achieving strategic change a “program.” Because “operations” would inevitably be confused with running a datacenter, let’s call the next-lower level of change “business outcomes” and call the organized effort of achieving them “initiatives.”

Then there’s “tactics,” the specific plan of action that military officers create to win battles. What might that correspond to in IT terms?

Tactics corresponds to projects, in more ways than one. In terms of military action, it’s hard to be sure whether you’re really achieving your strategy — or even whether you’re attaining your operational goals. Likewise in business. Whether the topic is combat or project management, you can be sure whether you’ve won the battle.

It’s up to someone else to win the war.

Fought any battles recently? Send Bob an e-mail at [email protected].

Bob Lewis is president of IT Catalysts (, an independent consultancy specializing in IT effectiveness and strategic alignment.

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