I always enjoy reading Idris Mootee’s blog Innovation Playground.  His latest post, “Does Your Business Strategy Have a Purpose” struck a chord.

To quote Idris, “purpose  is bigger than strategy. Way much bigger. At best, strategy is just a number of smart ideas to take advantage of a market opportunity or re-configuration of the value chain. But purpose is different, it is a journey. Strategies are about means; they cannot be an end in themselves. An end is a reason. Many companies today are not lacking strategies, they lack a reason–they lack purpose.”

I’ve worked with many consulting clients who get all lathered up developing IT strategies.  And yet, when I ask them, “What do you believe is the purpose of IT in your company?” they stop dead in their tracks.  Over the years, I’ve found that question to be powerful (i.e., a question that can lead to profound changes.)  For example, at Level 1 Business-IT Maturity, the purpose is often some variation on the theme, “To provide an enabling infrastructure for our business model.”  At Level 2, the purpose evolves to something like, “To integrate core business processes across the enterprise.”  And at Level 3, the purpose becomes something like, “To create new and differentiating customer experiences and to innovate our products and services.”

Purpose for IT is critical – it sets the ambition, and that ambition in turn unlocks the passion and motivation to rise above current state performance and the many challenges of providing IT capability.  Remember, I always see the world through this maturity lens – therefore, the lower level purpose never goes away – but a higher level purpose grows on top of it.  When I learned to walk (many years ago!) my purpose was to get from a to b without crawling.  When I learned to run, it was to get places more quickly than I could do by walking, but I still used the means of walking more often than I ran.

So, ask yourself (and your colleagues on the IT leadership team) “What is the purpose for our IT organization?”  If you ran into your CEO and he said, “I’m thinking of outsourcing our entire IT organization.”  would you be able to quickly articulate a compelling purpose for IT that could not be adequately served by outsourcing the whole shebang?