Ten years ago, people called IT when they couldn’t figure out how to make the printer work. Now, executives call IT to get time on their schedule to strategize the business operations for the coming year.
Technology heavily influences every department and generally makes things easier and more profitable for workers. The benefits of this – when put in place properly – haven’t gone unseen by employees. When all other departments realized that technology can make their life easier, IT was essentially broken out of its silo and integrated into basically every area of the company.
Imagine the smile on the HR manager’s face when she realizes that the process of onboarding new vendors, which used to take a week of chasing down signatures and faxing documents back and forth, now only takes a few clicks and is housed in a single document. Or the salesperson who can spend more time selling (and earning commissions!) because she’s able to use automation to log calls, send lead nurturing emails, and set appointments.
After the initial honeymoon of IT spreading its influence to other areas of the business, smart leaders started asking: “What else can IT do for us?”
This is how IT found its way into the strategic planning portion of business governance, and it’s here to stay.
In this post, we’ll explain the foundation of a solid IT strategy, discuss the necessity of having a good one, and shed some light on the general phases of IT strategy implementation.
What is an IT strategy?
While many definitions exist, our favorite comes from CIO Index and reads: An IT strategy is an iterative process to align IT capability with business requirements.
The key word here is process—an IT strategy is not a one-and-done meeting or project. Rather, an IT strategy is generally an outline of how technology can be used to increase business outcomes, the ways these solutions will be rolled out, and also some structure for how the initiatives will be measured and judged.
And there’s plenty of good reasons to invest in an IT strategy. Architecture and Governance Magazine reports that some Fortune 500 companies and government agencies have returns on investment as high as 700% from their investment in IT strategic planning.
One example of an IT strategy that touches every part of a business is a customer loyalty program.
- Upper management needs to decide what products or services they want to upsell or cross sell
- Marketing needs to find a way to incentivize customers to trade their data for some sort of benefit
- IT needs to place the data collection and analyzation (in-app tracking, for example) methods in place
And so on down the list of supporting departments. Clearly, no loyalty program can be profitable without data, and you need an IT strategy to guide how that data will be collected, stored, and parsed.
Of course, an IT strategy that doesn’t fit with corporate goals, and therefore doesn’t win support from the c-suite, doesn’t have a prayer at success.
Aligning IT strategy with business goals
An IT strategy that doesn’t fit the overall business goals can be extremely costly—not just in equipment and man hours, either. Mislead IT strategy operations can take bandwidth away from your company and make it harder to respond effectively to other situations.
Therefore to have effective IT strategies, you need established corporate strategies with support all the way to the top. That’s right — IT strategy comes after corporate strategy, and you should have these questions answered:
- Can our strategy support current and future business needs?
- Currently, is IT agile enough support more growth and success?
- Are we using technology correctly to address the organization’s most important business priorities while delivering value to clients?
- Are we making the right technology investments?
- Can we measure the value to the organization derived from that tech?
Once you have answers to those questions, you’re in a good position to start planning and an IT strategy.
Phases of creating an IT strategy
Every organization has different needs and timelines, but generally, an IT strategy rolls out in four phases.
Before you begin, you’ll need to gather a lot of info by doing an inventory of your current hardware and software licences, organization charts and staffing, disaster recovery and policies, etc. At this phase, you’ll also want to solicit feedback from the stakeholders about their expectations—either through surveys, focus groups, or interviews. Lastly, you’ll need to look externally for best practices and consultation, if necessary.
Once the info is gathered, it’s time to assess and synthesize all of it. Are the results of your findings in line with the expectations? Were there any unexpected holes in your current technology stack or available resources?
In order to be an actual strategic plan, it’s time to document your goals and how you’ll reach them. Often, this phase includes a mission statement or guiding principles to refer to later. The documentation phase will also include all teams and technology involved. This documentation should receive review and blessing from the management team.
Review and revise
With the management team’s blessing (or list of revisions), you can finalize your plan and begin distribution—often on an intranet or some other means of reaching the staff. Because of the nature of technology, no IT strategy is ever complete—measure, review, and iterate your processes is the name of the game.
As you can see, an IT strategy is an incredibly valuable piece of your organization’s plan for the next five years. As always, if you have any questions about the article or would like to share your own experiences with IT strategies, please feel free to sound off in the comments section below!