Ed Toner, CIO

Blog:Journey from Tactical Execution to Strategy Enablement

I feel every technology journey must begin with mastering Tactical IT Execution. The specific actions, “the basics” you learn to achieve that next level of development. That goes against most advice which states that strategic planning happens first. Strategic actions are the future-oriented goals that align with an organization’s stated mission. My view is that without the basics in place, which include the network architecture and necessary governance, you’re not preparing your team to deliver the strategic goals that will enable the business to run more efficiently and effectively.

Excellent tactical execution is the foundation necessary to successfully achieve an organization’s strategic objectives. However, attaining consistency in basic tactical execution takes time. Once in place you begin to earn the trust of the entire organization. You begin to be viewed as a “valued broker”. Only then can you start your journey to deliver on the solutions that will be needed to achieve the strategic goals of the organizations you support.

The basics are the operating principles of the organization. The operating principles are the processes, behaviors, and decision-making methodology that collectively ensures the team operates at the highest levels. Great teams engrain these principles into their daily activities and actions. We have established processes that aligned directly with the ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) list of best practices for service delivery. We have established formal operating principles for incident management through continuity management. These operating principles provide the answers to how we do things even when we don’t know what to do.

ITIL Practices chart
ITIL Practices

Seven plus years ago we started our journey to identify and establish our basics. We began by prioritizing the areas for improvement that would provide the greatest impact. We needed to change to successfully complete our ensuing project of consolidation. I have always known from my early days as an Industrial Engineer that change causes discomfort, and working in a manufacturing plant, no one was shy about letting me know how unhappy they were. I personally don’t enjoy change, but I know it is necessary in order to improve.

We began our change by baselining our organizational capabilities. While each organization is unique in its character and operating style, I have noticed I follow a familiar pattern. The pattern begins with the process of collecting, analyzing, and producing metrics to determine a baseline for improvement and process documentation. We then utilize the metrics to set goals to achieve continuous process improvement through consistent execution and improved delivery.

We had a clearly defined and executed tactical plan:

  • One network – one domain
  • Centralized management of Active/Hot Standby, geographically separated data centers
  • Hardware managed by the OCIO
  • Servers located in only the state’s two data centers managed by the OCIO
  • Enterprise applications managed by the OCIO
  • Applications that are specific to an agency are managed by the agency, but the technical infrastructure is managed by the OCIO

Once our goal of Tactical IT Execution was realized we moved our focus to concentrate on our present step which involves Strategy Enablement. Strategy and tactics are not the same but are clearly related. Strategic planning does not include the specific tactical details, but the existence of foundational tactics makes a strategy a success. Strategy focuses on achieving the States Mission, the long-term goals and objectives. Strategy is determined by the entire organization. Our clearly defined tactical emphasis determined how technology is delivered with a focus on cost, quality and time. Setting the stage for the often-quoted phrase, “Business Defined and IT Delivered”.

A CIO’s value is established through the demonstrated ability to contribute to the business strategy. This strategy delivery aspect is what I call the Valued Broker - The dynamic between the OCIO and our Agency partners to assist in accomplishing the States Mission and Agency goals. The valued broker stage is the point at which we expand our focus from an inward focus on tactical to an outward focus on strategy. This shift includes building a trusted relationship with our internal stakeholders and partner in their project needs. We become the trusted advisor by focusing externally on the business challenges that need to be solved together. The OCIO must approach each challenge as a potential project that needs communication and marketing.

We do this through a number of ways, the most structured of which are:

“Open Houses” - We advise agencies on strategic product offerings and convey the value of these products to diverse stakeholders to solve new business problems by introducing complete services. EX: B2B, B2C, customer identity.

“Cloud Review Board” - We recognize agencies use Cloud resources outside of the OCIO-provided cloud solution. Standard criteria must be taken into consideration before moving State data into a non-State cloud solution. The OCIO Cloud Review Board provides governance, reviews policy, standardizes and maintains the State’s security posture for all cloud services used by the Agencies.

“Project Management Office” – The mission of the PMO is to facilitate identification, prioritization, definition and monitoring of projects that align with the State's enterprise goals. A very important part of this support effort is the implementation of project management best practices (project charters, project plans, scope change control, etc.) that facilitate communication to the customers of the OCIO.

To effectively guide Agency stakeholders there must be a pattern of positive time-tested interactions between the OCIO and our Agency partners. The OCIO must focus on understanding and defining solutions to the business problems identified that need to be solved. It is now essential for the OCIO to be the trusted business partner and expert on the best technology available to deliver valuable business solutions. The real test of whether we are viewed as a valued broker is the value we deliver. If we are not producing the value expected for the bill we send to our customer, we are not focused on the right things.

I will end with one thing that all Great teams have in common. Great teams share accountability for results, and those results are determined by the perceived value we deliver.

As always, I appreciate your hard work and respect for the taxpayers of the State of Nebraska, which you show each and every day.

Ed Toner