There is no such thing as "strategic IT", only strategic use of IT to create value. So how does the use of software mapping tools create value for organisations?
Value creation chain for software mapping tools
Level 1: Features, Functions and Ergonomics
Level 1 describes the technical capabilities of the software application, establishing the platform for level 2. This does not mean that all the features and functions offered will automatically create value higher up, but the absence of certain features could certainly cause difficulties. Potential value is created by enabling the creation of value higher up. Factors at this level include:
- Operating systems supported
- Graphical capabilities and presentation
- Imports and exports
- Features supporting collaborative use
- Ergonomics, intuitive operation and keyboard accelerators
- Expansibility, allowing the software to be used as a solution platform
Note that "software reviews" in the technical press often limit themselves to comparisons at level 1, and leave the reader to join up their own dots above that.
Level 2: Representation and Modelling
Level 2 creates value by allowing the organisation to make real business issues tangible and manageable. The maxim "if you can measure it, you can manage it" applies here. The mixture of flexibility and constraints of the architecture of the "mind map" type diagram has the potential to create new ways to describe issues so that colleagues can understand and respond to them much faster and more accurately than other media, such as written text. The features and functions at level 1 determine the richness and efficacy of this new language. There are four key elements at this level:
- The ability of the platform to represent items that are meaningful to the business (e.g. problems, opportunities, decisions, plans, actions, strategies and so on)
- The visualisation of the relationships between these items, showing how they depend or interact in a meaningful way
- The manipulation and re-structuring of the diagram to change relationships and meaning, leading to the creation of value at level 3. This is critical, because you must be able to think about and describe issues in terms that relate to your organisation. Being able to develop and refine your model of how an issue works is the key to understanding it and gaining new insight
- The exploitation of the radial tree diagram to describe the purpose and focus of the representation, leading to the creation of value at level 3.
Vendors of mapping software often miss out the the meat in the sandwich at level 2, and infer direct links between their technology and organisational benefits.
Level 3: Business Process Enablement
So, if levels 1 and 2 of the value chain let you model business issues in a concise and unambiguous way, what can you do that you could not do before? This is where the real value of using these applications is realised. Yet, you should still be wary of claims that they directly affect the bottom line. (Remember, "no strategic IT").
At level 3, you can create value for your organisation through verifiable improvements to critical internal processes that indirectly affect the bottom line. "More effective meetings" will not directly increase your profitability. But, if (a) meeting efficiency has been recognised as a measurement point of (say) the project management process in your organisation, and (b) you are monitoring meeting efficiency against a target value, and (c) you can create the missing link at level 2 that supports meetings, then you have every chance of contributing to the bottom line by making meeting more efficient by using a software mapping tool.
Value created at level 3 is achieved by cultural changes, not technological ones. For software maps to become a currency, their value must be beyond question, so that people question what the map means to them rather than why they are being shown it. The term "map" should be taboo above level 1. At levels 2 and 3, maps should always be referred to in terms of their meaning to the organisation. "Let me show you our strategy on this issue" is much more powerful than "let me show you a map about this issue". The latter infers that the use of mapping is a barrier or complication, and creates an opportunity to bring into question the map rather than the strategy.
To understand the potential value of software mapping in your organisation, ask yourself: "What core processes are not working very well today because we struggle to describe and communicate fundamental concepts in a consistent and engaging way?" If the answer to this is "none", then it is probable that software mapping will remain a novelty at the fringes of your organisation. However, if you can produce a strong answer, then you have every chance of completing the value chain between the technology and the bottom line.