Competing Priorities

Priorities cloudOne of the most difficult things for any organisation, particularly for-profit businesses which must always keep a eye on cost, is to discern the appropriate priority in a swirling sea of possible priorities. This is especially true in information technology (IT), where it can seem that security, efficiency and functionality are locked in a never ending game of rock-paper-scissors.
Here we offer a method that will help to clarify these priorities for your organisation by separating out major functions, and assigning appropriate priorities to each one. So that when you determine the purpose of an IT process, you will have a guide for applying priorities. (You can download this in our free booklet: Turning IT into GOLD.)


The competing priorities for IT are:

  • Security
  • Efficiency
  • Functionality

Each of these priorities can be competitive with the others, and your job as an executive manager is set the appropriate order, and provide clarity when there is confusion.

Categorising Activity

The key to setting appropriate priorities is to determine the nature of the process in question.
Every organisation can sort it’s activities into three categories:

  • Administrative
  • Operational
  • Proprietary

Once you have determined which of those categories the process in question falls into, you can set the appropriate priority when there are competing demands.

Priority Table

The Priority Grid

Of course, all three priorities still have a place in the order, and placing them in an order does not negate something that falls below the top priority.

Administrative: Efficiency, Security, Functionality

Administration is always a cost, a necessary and vital cost, but a cost nevertheless. The appropriate priority for an administrative process is to promote efficiency first. The output of an administrative process, its function, will always be a baseline driver of the process, but how it is delivered will also be determined by the quality standard you set for the output. The output of an administrative process needs only to be as good as is necessary to administrate, and too many organisations waste resources on increasing the quality of administrative processes beyond the point at which they can inform a good decision.

Focus on efficiency first.

Operational: Functionality, Efficiency, Security

The essential purpose of effort is output. The operational aspects of any organisation must focus on the delivery of its intended output, which means that there is little or no leeway in the functionality of an operational process.

Cost must be managed around function, which means that efficiency is the secondary priority.

Proprietary: Security, Functionality, Efficiency

Where the viability of the organisation is at stake, either in a competitive market or in its duty to its stakeholders, security must be the first priority. For businesses this can mean information about proprietary processes, customers, and vendor relationships, incorporating aspects of sales, marketing and business management. For any organisation this will also include private information about stakeholders.

It is important to distinguish between what is proprietary financial activity and administration, as these different activities are commonly lumped into a single department. You need to avoid adding unnecessary cost to what is purely administrative on the one hand, or allowing insecure handling of what is critical financial data on the other hand.

As there will inevitably be decisions that need to be made at an executive level to keep IT focused on delivering GOLD, this grid of priorities can guide you to make the appropriate calls in tight situations.

Priority Table

Priority Scale

Get your own copy of this method with more details and explanations, download this free booklet: Turning IT into GOLD.

Why is the “upgrade cycle” broken?

For the last 30 years IT systems have been primarily deployed inside businesses, actually inside their offices. A business would buy a system for their office, use it for as long as practical, and then upgrade it to a new one using then current technology.
Now, because the big opportunities for technology companies are in large-scale cloud systems, options appropriately designed for smaller businesses are rapidly disappearing. For instance, Microsoft no longer offers its Small Business Server that ran on a single server, they would much rather their small business customers migrate to Office 365 online.
For really small businesses, public cloud solutions have always been the better option, but for many business with more than a few users and less than 1,000 users, the old upgrade cycle is broken.
Those businesses are confronted with a choice between deploying systems internally that are designed for much larger organisations (with unnecessary functionality and complexity that drive up their costs), or moving to the use of shared, public cloud systems.
All is not lost. You can still leverage standard components to build affordable and appropriately scaled systems for the best of both on premises and private cloud deployment – you just may not be able to use Microsoft software to do it. (hint: 21core can help.)
Many businesses are reaching the end of their last upgrade cycle, and moving forward will require changes to IT that need leadership and clarity. We look forward to helping you with that transition.

IT = Process + Systems

Too often we lose sight of our objective, especially when dealing with shiny new toys! This is an particularly acute problem with IT.

Get your executive guide to GOLD

Get your executive guide to GOLD

IT is more about process than it is about systems, even if the systems are very cool and shiny. IT systems are merely collections of generic pieces; it is how they are arranged and used that delivers the GOLD to the organisation.
A difficult thing to accept about IT is that it is not static. It is almost impossible to capture the full picture of an IT system, especially one that is truly delivering GOLD, because that picture would need to include how people are using the systems. And people are constantly developing new ways to use their systems, so the true picture of IT is constantly changing.
When IT becomes orientated around systems, it is trying to avoid the much more important, and difficult, task of orientating around processes.

Process over Systems

In practical terms, managing IT Process means focusing on service management, because it is in the delivery of IT support that the opportunity arises to capture and update information about its use.
The key is to have an effective tool that can turn the everyday process of supporting your IT systems into a gold mine of information about best practices. Your IT design needs to incorporate service management and knowledge capture, if it is truly going to deliver GOLD for your organisation.

Use IT to make IT better!

Good IT design must include service management as an intrinsic element of it architecture.
Responsive support services, that are easy for users to access, are the best way to increase your return on your IT investments. And the best way to make support as responsive as possible is to make sure that you are always focused on the highest priority requests. You can use the Priority Grid to automatically assign appropriate priorities to requests as they come in.

Priority Scale

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As issues are resolved, a good service management system will allow useful solutions to be added to a searchable knowledge base, that users can consult to find their own solutions in the future. This is your IT GOLD.