The topic of Information Technology Strategy is one that is near and dear to my heart.  In fact, I’ve harped on this subject a few times (a few posts for your reading please can be found here, here and here and you can find all posts related to the topic with this search).

Why is this topic something I think and write about often?   Because it’s one of the most important topics in business today.  I doubt there are many people who would argue that point.

Every corporate leader that I speak with agrees with me on the topic of IT Strategy….but few can really describe their IT strategy and even fewer can show a plan for implementing that strategy.  This strategic plan doesn’t have to be a huge formal document but it must address a few key questions:

  1. Where is the organization going to be in the next 6, 12,18 and 24 months?  What are the short and long term goals?
  2. How can IT help the organization achieve the goals described in #1 above?
  3. What are your criteria for project selection and what project portfolio management techniques will you use?
  4. Is your current IT organization capable of implementing your strategy?
  5. How can you bring value to your clients AND your IT staff?

There are other questions that should be addressed by an IT strategy but the above will help get any organization started.

Like most other posts like this, I have an example that might help clarify the above points.

On a visit with a potential client, I was being briefed on the organization’s “big project” that they wanted my assistance with.  On the surface it seemed simple and straightforward…and it seemed like a great idea for the organization. After about an hour of discussion, I started to get the sense that this organization hadn’t clearly thought this new project through.

The new platform had the ability to consolidate the functions from three other platforms that they had already been using…but they weren’t planning on replacing those platforms. They were going to add this new platform in order to take advantage of a single piece of functionality while still running the other three platforms.

I asked them a few questions (e.g., why they were doing this, why they weren’t thinking about replacing their existing platforms, etc)…their response was “well….we already have those systems in place and we just need this one piece in place and we’ll be set”.

After a few more rounds of questions, I finally got the real answer from the group as to why they have 3 platforms that do the same thing and were going to put in another one: They had no IT Strategy.  The CIO had talked about creating a strategic plan for technology but it had been mostly talk.  Because of the lack of an IT strategy, the organization lacked any direction and any guidelines for what IT projects to take on.

We all know how this turns out.  No IT strategy, no IT project selection guidelines and no IT project measurement systems will always lead organizations to flounder around and grasp at whatever projects pop up.  They implement the ‘sexy’ projects (the latest technology, etc) without any real governance on project selection.   Organizations end up with three platforms that do the same thing.

I told my potential client that I couldn’t help them with the new implementation. I turned the project down primarily because it was a bigger project than I could take on at that time but also because I didn’t believe in the project’s feasibility and usefulness.

The CIO and I had lunch a few months later to touch base and I was surprised to hear that he had stopped the project that they had spoken to me about.  He had mentioned that he was starting to see that the organization was spinning its wheels and not accomplishing much but he couldn’t understand why.  I mentioned my thoughts to him and I saw his eyes widen a bit as he realized why his team wasn’t accomplishing anything…they had no roadmap to help direct them.

He asked if I’d be interested in helping him draft an IT strategy (I said yes of course) and we setup some time to discuss the topic more in-depth. I spent the next three months helping the CIO craft an IT strategy that addressed the questions listed above.

The IT strategy that we developed has subsequently helped the organization deliver more services for less costs due to a properly thought out IT strategy.  Gone are the days of supporting multiple platforms…the IT staff has one platform and are now focused on creating innovative applications rather than integrating multiple platforms.  The IT staff has also been able to streamline operations and become more flexible. No more waiting 6 months to get a quote to an internal client for a new project….projects are quoted the same day and usually delivered within 3 months.

In addition to the ability to deliver more quickly and at lower costs, there is an additional benefit that come from thinking about question #5. When developing your IT strategy, you should always consider how to create value for your clients….but don’t overlook how you can bring value to your employees as well.   This is a key issue for any IT strategy…how can you make your organization a place where your IT staff will want to work?

Has your organization taken a good hard look at its IT Strategy?  Does your IT group know where they should be focusing their attention?  If not, you really should stop and think about developing a strategy for at least the next few years.  Without a map, you may not end up where you want to be.

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