Developing and executing the IT Strategy for an organization is the single most important part of the CIO’s job and achieving CIO success. Notice that that I emphasize it is not only important to develop the IT strategy, it is essential to also execute the IT strategy.
In fact, the formulation of an IT strategy and the creation of the actual IT strategic plan in many ways has to begin at the end with the execution of the plan. What that means is that in order to have a successful IT strategy and a credible IT strategic plan they have to be developed based on the reality of what you can actually execute successfully.
That’s a pretty straightforward approach so your IT strategy doesn’t create the age old problem of over-committing and under-delivering. That’s not to say you can’t incorporate some stretch goals in your IT strategic plan just as long as you are not reaching for something that is unrealistic where the price of failing to deliver might be too high.
To help make the formulation of an IT strategy and producing an IT strategic plan a little easier I have organized the advise and resources into the following areas: IT Strategic Plan, Integrated Planning, Future of IT, and IT Governance.
IT Strategic Plan
Before you set out to create an IT strategic plan you really have to be clear on what exactly your IT strategy is. Having a clear idea of your IT strategy can only begin with knowing what a strategy is and what a strategy is not within the context of strategic planning.
That’s a little bit of knowing what is a strategy versus a tactic. It is also a bit of knowing what would be considered strategic versus what is normally considered operational. Or as some might put it, simply business as usual.
CIO’s that do not put enough attention to these foundational steps in strategic planning inevitably produce an IT strategic plan that is not strategic and just set themselves up for falling short or worse yet – failure.
That last point is also why every CIO should try to understand why it is that strategic planning fails. Because when you understand what it is that can cause a strategic plan to fail you can avoid those problems in your own strategic planning process.
So before you ever start drafting your IT strategic plan or even meeting with your team to begin the strategic planning process, you should have already worked out what the current business strategy is, what the IT strategic plan needs to be to support the business strategy, and have a good idea for what causes strategic planning to fail.
There are plenty of strategic planning models that will work for developing an IT strategic plan. Because just the idea of having to create a formal IT strategic plan can be scary, I prefer to use an approach that focuses on keeping it simple initially in order to get a usable IT strategic plan done. Then, if time and energy permit, the strategic planning model can be revisited to add more depth and detail.
Based on that idea, I advise CIO’s to start with a goal of solidifying the core IT strategy first. Write things using two or three bullets initially and avoid paragraphs and anything else that will make it seem like a term paper.
It is more important that you use a strategic planning model that creates a comprehensive plan covering the breadth of the IT scope of responsibilities across the entire business strategy even if it means the result is not very deep. Often times it is less important to define the details of what you will be doing as it can be to define the rationale your will apply to future decisions.
Ultimately, the reasoning behind this approach is that you want to be sure you have not missed anything glaring that could be interpreted as you not being aligned to the business. You also don’t want to overlook the major IT services and any current pain points which could be interpreted as IT being only focused on the technology.
Future of IT
CIO’s and their leadership team need to have a good understanding for the Future of IT going into the strategic planning process. Knowing the Future of IT isn’t just having a clear sense for the direction that technology innovation is taking applications and infrastructure systems.
The Future of IT includes changes in the profession that might impact staffing as well as what is going on in the vendor landscape.
Only when the IT leadership has a firm and thoughtful grasp on the Future of IT can an IT strategy be developed for the business strategy that is not at risk of being off-target.
I realize that will sound obvious and almost not worth mentioning. But when you consider the typical budgeting and strategic planning cycle most IT strategic plans extend out anywhere from 18 to 30 months.
That is why I am calling attention to the risk of creating an IT strategic plan that reflects yesterday’s innovation and today’s trends without projecting that out for what is likely to happen next.
The other reason for understanding the Future of IT is so that as CIO you can anticipate and address the effects of technology innovation that will directly impact the business strategy. That is, how technology innovation will change the business model, product or service offerings, or even revenues as we see with the emergence of the social business.
IT governance is all about decision making. IT governance includes the decisions over IT strategy and the role of the CIO. The IT governance decisions we make on IT strategy, tactics and even the specific technologies used to execute the IT strategy are incredibly important.
As experienced professionals and executives it is easy to take the IT governance decision making for granted. It is just human nature to believe we all make good, well reasoned, and rationale decisions in our daily lives. Because we operate largely in a technology based world we are convinced we can apply an unbiased approach to making critical decisions.
But there is plenty of evidence that is not the case. This can be especially true in IT governance when it comes to the decision making required for choosing and IT strategy, selecting individual IT investments, IT policy, and choosing IT projects for approval.