Is “System of Record” a Good Word or a Bad Word?

February 11, 2016

I’ve had a number of conversations with organizations recently, in both public AND private sector organizations, where the topic of a “system of record” for portfolios, priorities, and even strategy was discussed.  This is certainly not a new topic, but it is interesting to me that it continues to be top of mind of so many executives and planners.  How have we not solved this yet?

The crux of the problem comes down to this…  In an ideal world, of COURSE your business strategy and goals and then, in turn, your IT strategy and goals would be stored in one single location, accessible and reachable from anyone in the organization (or any partner in the ecosystem).  And in that same world then, ALL of your decisions for investments, resource allocation, and budget would be based on that strategy and stored in the same system.  For all to see and for all who make those decisions to have access to it.  Then it would be easy and obvious that ALL decisions made and money spent would be perfectly aligned with strategy and the direction would be perfect.

But, as we know, the real world is anything but an ideal world, especially when it comes to strategy and decision making.  The main problem is that it’s not always that easy.  There hasn’t always been software options out there that make this possible.  But the other side of the problem is interest and willingness.  There are some VERY interesting reasons why some people support it to the hilt and some do not.

There are many reasons to support your strategy and portfolio management in the same system of record.  Clarity, alignment, relevance, etc.  An interesting reason I heard from a prospect this week was from a business continuity perspective.  In many industries, there is heavy turnover in decision-making positions on a regular basis.  And in many of those industries, many programs have 3-year, 5-year, or even longer implementation horizons.  How can your organization be sure that as decision makers filter in and out of the organization that your strategy and direction stays in one place?  How can you be sure that the good decisions and directionality of the past are maintained into the future?  A clear system of record at least ensures the decisions made and reasons why are all readily available for incoming decision makers to see.

The counter-perspective is even more fascinating to me.  There are many industries where a system of record for investment and resourcing decisions is actively rejected.  And nearly all of these have something in common – a “star”, “genius”, “dictator”-esque leadership community that eschews input, data, or collaboration in decision making and resource allocation.  The theory is that they achieved their position based on the success of their “decisions”, based on the success of their “gut”, and they’re not going to stop working that way now.  And sometimes, those are very successful people and very successful organizations, so there is data (unfortunately or not) that absolutely backs up this type of decision making and portfolio management.

Obviously, based on our mission to be the portfolio management solution for the world, we at Decision Lens espouse the positive connotation of a system of record for strategy and portfolio decisions.  We’ve seen endless examples of cost savings (in the form of efficiency improvements, redundancy reduction, and alignment improvement) from this perspective.

Where do you stand on the topic?