Managing Strategic Intent

Sentric

The Sentric consultancy, based in Victoria, uses a technique known as co-creation to align its customers’ strategic intent with their business and ICT operations. In a manner similar to a building architect who uses techniques to assist clients to visualise and contextualise their dream home, Sentric uses similar principles to assist the business to understand the capabilities they need to build, and the ICT enablers they need to deliver, to achieve their strategy.

The company has an outcome management team. If you still run your company by the seat of your pants, you may not even know you need them, but the team comprises specialists known as ‘boundary partners’. Unlike the role of a business analyst, the role of the boundary partner does not vary between industries and organisations. The role focuses on “the visualisation of the solution with an appreciation of enterprise changes as viewed from the customer, supplier, business, and technology viewpoints.” The role is that of a ‘trusted advisor’ and requires the boundary partner to establish a high level of confidence and respect from all four areas.

Peter acknowledges that all this terminology can be daunting, but he gradually reduces it to the more easily comprehensible. Sentric specialises in “aligning an IT strategy to a business strategy,” he explains. Most businesses, after all, have an overall business strategy – production or turnover targets, for example – that dictates what capabilities they need. “What we do is align IT functional capability with business outcomes to determine where capability is adequate and where there are gaps that need to be addressed,” says Peter. A simple example is a customer relationship management (CRM) system (IT outcome) in order to provide a holistic view of a company’s customers (business outcome).

The process is sophisticated and requires a high degree of trust and co-operation on both the client and consultancy side. “Many organisations don’t understand what is available to them from their own [IT] groups because they are business-focused, not IT-focused,” Peter explains. Business functions rely on IT to advise them of their capability and maturity; “sometimes even IT don’t know what their capabilities are in that respect.” Often, business leaders will buy what they believe to be a solution and hand it to IT for implementation with little or no collaborative input to check if it is the best solution or a poorly fitting band-aid.

In many cases, the high failure rate for IT projects (around 70 to 80 per cent failure according to Gartner research figures) can be traced to issues associated with a lack of alignment and understanding between management and IT. That situation is being compounded by the commoditisation of IT services (Peter cites cloud computing as a perfect example).

Sentric uses the business case as a connection point between business and IT that, if properly written, forces alignment of IT spend to corporate direction – product strategy, marketing strategy, etc. A well written business case will concisely explain to the reader how IT will contribute to organisational outcomes.

This is not something which is only for major corporations, Peter emphasises. “All companies can take advantage of it,” he assures. It’s not about size but more about attitude. “It depends on the level of maturity you want to take it to. You can look at outcomes on an enterprise level or at a specific project level, or in between, which is called portfolios.”

Aligning all the individual projects across a business with the overall corporate strategy ensures the whole organisation is pulling in the same – and the correct – direction instead of blurring the corporate focus. It can mean the end of ‘silos’ – where individual teams work virtually in a vacuum, not consulting fellow teams and often hiding information from them.

Clients normally engage Sentric when greater transparency is required over where the company is spending its money at a strategic level. Not-for-profit organisations in particular can take advantage of this service when they need to increase the value-add with the limited funds they have to work with. “For Sentric to go in and try to sell outcome management to an organisation that is not interested in building its business or delivering its projects in a strategic way is not a very good sell proposition for us,” Peter explains. “Clients need to possess a level of maturity to understand they want to do this before you call us in.”

What’s special in this case about not-for-profits is that they generally do not have shareholders who are looking for a return on their investment. Instead they have donors who simply want their input maximised – an optimum community outcome. So Sentric will use the Balanced Scorecard approach to measure corporates but with not-for-profits, outcome management is a better way to evaluate the efficiency of the delivery of service to the target community.

Sentric is an Australian company, founded in 2007 by Daniel Brewer. Expansion plans for the domestic operation include going interstate (although for some clients there is already a national service). Establishing offices in other states will come once Sentric acquires a larger customer base, which it is building. Peter points out that for most clients, the Sentric exercise is less of a single project than a long-term partnership – the Australian Red Cross being a good example, where Sentric has been engaged to work collaboratively with the Red Cross ICT team and Business to deliver a portfolio of projects including Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). Sentric brings a set of skills and capabilities that are needed to supplement those of the organisation’s staff in achieving strategic projects that have a combination scale, complexity and use of a multi-tiered technology environment.

Peter says that outcome management stems from the healthcare industry. “When you are looking at healthcare, you are looking for an outcome for a patient,” he explains. “We have translated that methodology and have been enhancing it over the last five years and aligning it with other frameworks,” such as Balanced Scorecard and other well-known business governance models. “It’s a very powerful tool when it’s used correctly and its implementation is not very expensive or difficult.”

Companies of any size should be asking themselves if their IT matches what they want to achieve in corporate terms. If you want to achieve more from your precious IT budget, perhaps you should talk to Sentric. Government and utilities are among the obvious candidates for improvement, “but our framework and methodologies can apply to anything from a restaurant to a major telco,” says Peter.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

July 19, 2018, 7:38 PM AEST