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If you’re a CIO, CTO, director or vice president of IT, or an IT manager, listen up! Today, we’re going to talk about IT strategy. And since you’re the one who’s responsible for creating and driving the vision for your organization’s IT function, these insights are most pertinent to you.
And no, we’re not just talking about what your IT budget looks like next year. Developing an IT strategic plan entails goals, objectives, and guiding standards for all IT-related initiatives. For the more specific plans, you may even include resource-level aspects that detail what it will take to achieve the more high-level parts of the plan.
Also, codifying your strategy is as almost as important as developing it. For any organization, spend is an important concern. Costs need to be justified, and you can’t do that without a documented IT strategy.
Let’s explore what your organization looks like without and with an IT strategy, then look at some steps you can take to go from the former to the latter.
Do you recall the old saying, “…running around like a chicken with its head cut off”? That’s a fairly accurate description of an organization that lacks a clear IT strategy.
It’s an aimless, and sometimes frantic, series of actions taken by the members of your IT function. It’s not their fault of course. They have nothing to guide them, which means their day-to-day work has no greater purpose to fulfill.
You’ll have a good idea of whether your organization has an IT strategy in place if these circumstances sound familiar.
You respond reactively to IT problems. If you haven’t planned, you don’t know what problems you might face. Thus, when problems arise, you’re scrambling to solve them instead of already having solutions ready to go or preventive measures to avoid the problems altogether.
Oftentimes, this leads to business processes being impacted, affecting both employee workflows and customer outcomes. Not exactly the best way to be the employer of choice for great talent or a leading brand to prospects.
You replace software piecemeal. While replacing some software is unavoidable, there should be a rhyme and reason for doing so. An organization with a hazy IT strategy won’t know when their systems should be replaced; nor will they have a solid idea of what other systems may be impacted by those replacements.
In addition, when replacing software piecemeal, you back your function into a corner and wind up being forced to create workarounds. One or two of these instances may not be cause for alarm, but the more workarounds you implement, the more patchwork your system will become. This will eventually result in reduced system longevity and potential system failure.
You make large, sweeping changes infrequently. Granted, large changes are sometimes necessary. But it’s important to know when to roll out changes that represent a significant shift in either system usage or business processes (i.e., the way things are done).
All of these circumstances result in loss of time and money. A solid IT plan could have prevented this loss, or at least lessened it.
Now, let’s take a contrasting look at what your organization could look like if it took the time to develop a clear IT strategy.
You proactively plan for IT problems. Instead of letting random technology problems run your IT agenda, take control by planning your strategy and considering potential mishaps. Then, plan contingencies for handling what may go wrong.
The more detailed you are in the planning, the easier it will be for your organization to handle the issues that arise. This way, you can reduce the impact IT problems have on business processes, employee workflows, and customer outcomes.
You look to integrate software, not separate. Looking at the bigger organizational picture is important in procuring your software. In many cases, a more comprehensive solution may be available that resolves multiple system and process issues.
Oftentimes, this means looking into enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, which integrate a number of your organizational functions to provide greater visibility and empower decision making.
You make moderate system changes within a reasonable timeframe. Do you remember the old fairytale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? When she sat down to eat porridge, Goldilocks tried three bowls, but only one was just right.
That should be your approach to system changes—getting them just right. You want to find a balance in your changes with regard to scope and time. Taking too long to make needed changes means users become complacent in their system usage and overly resistant to any changes. However, making changes too frequently means users have difficulty getting used to the system and become less productive.
Similarly, large changes can often be segmented into smaller, phased changes. This typically provides for higher and easier user adoption.
With these two clear pictures in mind, how do you then go from a chaotic or disorganized state to a strategic and scalable one?
Well, let’s break it down into three high-level steps.
Step 1: Consider and understand your organization’s larger goals. At the highest level, your organization has a strategic vision and likely three-to-five-year business strategy (i.e., strategic plan). Understanding those goals gives you targets to aim for.
And while your purview may be over the IT function, you still need to consider how the other functions interact with your own. Sales, marketing, accounting, and other function don’t operate in vacuums (at least they shouldn’t). IT plays an integral and integrated role in the support of these other functions.
Step 2: Determine how the IT function aligns with organizational goals. The first step provided context. With this context in mind, you can then focus on how you will align the IT function with the organizational goals.
In short, how will IT help achieve the goals of the organization?
You can think of this step as developing the IT vision, as it pertains to supporting the overall vision for the organization.
Step 3: Plan and document your IT strategy with relevant input. After vision comes the plan. You need to determine how you will make the IT vision a reality. Include specific objectives, approaches and principles, IT infrastructure, IT governance, key performance indicators (KPIs), and potential system and process issues/roadblocks.
Make sure to garner input from management, other functions, and key IT personnel. You want to ensure you’ve considered as much as possible so that your IT strategic plan is flexible. And remember, though your strategy will be codified in document form, it’s still meant to be dynamic and revised on a regular basis.
Now, these steps may come easy to you and your team. However, you may also want to seek help from knowledgeable consultants adept at formulating strategy for the IT function.
Factum has helped numerous organizations with IT strategy consulting, from Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies to small and mid-sized companies. If you want to make sure your IT strategy is on the mark, reach out to us here.