On this blog post we are going to clear the air around the term ‘IT Strategy’ and hopefully give you food for thought & instigate thinking about your new or existing IT Strategy, an approach which will most probably work if you do it right, best practices to execute it, market it well (Yes ! We used that word in IT) & how to get the ball rolling with the top management and other departments to support it (Not Kill It).

 

Lets start by the Definition of the term ‘IT Strategy’, so we all are on the same planet:

 

This is what Gartner says: IT strategy is about how IT will help the enterprise win. This breaks down into IT guiding the business strategy, and IT delivering on the business strategy. Although some or all tasks involved in creating the IT strategy may be separate, and there are normally separate documents, IT strategy it is an integral part of the business strategy. ‘http://www.gartner.com/it-glossary/it-strategy

 

Sounds Good ! However some people might disagree because this definition seems perfect in an ideal world scenario where IT is perceived by the management as a differentiating factor and drives the growth of the organization, unfortunately ! not every CIO has this luxury.

 

IT Strategy (simply put as) is a combination of short and long term plans, which involves resources & set of actions both technical and business related for certain activities which will support operations, so organizational objectives can be met in a specific timeline.

 

 

What should be your approach for a new or revamped IT Strategy ?

It’s not ‘just’ about a document: Many organizations fail to understand that IT Strategy is not a 200-600 pages document which is eating dust right now in one of your shelves and talks about what IT department is capable of doing and what it will do in the due time. Great ICT teams create an IT strategy not for the sake of a document or a task they have been bestowed to perform by the management. They work with experts from outside the organization, to get a different perspective, catalyse the process, and understand the ICT landscape and industry dynamics. Creation of an IT Strategy is not a task that should be completely outsourced, but something that needs to be jointly developed by your internal ICT stakeholders and an expert organization who can guide you through the process.

General Recommendations:

  • Involve external catalysts who will help you, but don’t let them create YOUR strategy why? Because it is YOUR strategy! You know your organization better than any consulting & advisory firm in the world.
  • An IT Strategy document should not exceed more than 20-40 pages and should cover 1st year’s plan which will be reviewed after the results are out with the completion of that year
  • Its not about the number of pages and words, it becomes much easier for a consulting firm to justify their time with the length of an IT Strategy document, it should be more about the thought process that has gone into it as most of the consulting or advisory firms are any ways going to do a Ctr+C & Ctr+V job and hopefully you don’t want that to happen.

Timing: IT Strategy is not for 5-10 years, why? because nobody can deny the fact that the ICT & Industry landscape is ever changing every 3 to 6 months, factors like new emerging technologies, new business models, product upgrades, mergers and acquisitions, economic and social changes, customer’s changing behaviours, management changes and how your organization is performing in the industry will be affecting your IT strategy.

Recommendation:

  • Keep it short and simple, and try to develop the strategy for the coming year, you should not be spending more than 3-4 months on this activity and thinking about 5 to 10 years, because a lot of things will change in that time and you can’t keep on doing this for years and years to come.

What should it Consist?: IT Strategy is your plan to support the management & shareholder achieve their objectives. For example: Growth in top line & bottom line, great customer experience, brand improvement, market share, mind share etc. (it’s a demand & supply game)

Need / Requirement: As a CIO, you need to have your management & divisional heads answer these questions:

  • What are their top 3 priorities, For Example:  {CEO says: Better insights about customers & improvement in market share, brand improvement}, {CFO says better reporting, faster transactions, cost cutting (the obvious one)}
  • What do you think of technology’s role to achieve the above for our organization?
  • Where do you think the ICT department should improve, our strengths and weaknesses?

These answers will not only help you as a CIO understand organization’s perception about your team and department but also give a holistic view of what the other departments are trying to achieve and where do they overlap with each other in terms of their requirements, needs, challenges and opportunities.

Supply / Internal Resources: This is about you and your team, ask every section in the ICT team the following (although as a CIO you might think, you know these answers but most of the CIO’s get surprising and shocking answers. If you cannot conduct this activity, ask your consulting firm to run a qualitative research based on discussions with team members, to understand challenges and opportunities for your department)

This activity will help you understand your current state of affairs, a scope of where you can improve and how you will be in a position to address the answers / requirements other divisions have put across to you. (For Example: Your application team says, they spend a lot of time of making the ERP work, Infrastructure team says lack of budget to have the right environment to support the application teams, Security teams are concerned about new malware etc)

Now you have the inputs and hopefully some insights from internal (i.e. ICT Department), external departments & top management. This will help you fill in the gap to now get to the actual work of planning things, so you can help the organization achieve some of its goals.

Caution: Remember! You as a CIO, cannot solve everyone’s problems and challenges and you don’t have to try doing it in one go, you need to prioritize the needs of the organization which you can cater with your best abilities and resources. Focusing on prioritizing your plan & activities efficiently is something you should do well, use your consulting partner for a discussion on these matters so you can get a different perspective and advice. (You don’t have to necessarily take it, if you don’t want to)

Let’s get our hands dirty!

IT Strategy Document:

  • Objectives Section: State the purpose of the document, collect all the information about your organization such as Vision, Mission, Goals & Objectives and comments from the top management from their internal & external communications and jot it down in the document. (2-3 Pages)
  • Executive Summary: Outline the entire documents summary for the top management, think of this as all the important and relevant points you want to put across to the top management (not exceeding more than 1 page)
  • Stakeholder’s: Clarify about the different stakeholders both internal and external customers, and how are they going to get positively affected if this strategy is executed well and supported by the management. (2-3 Pages, Include a infographic or a chart which states how your organization fits in the internal and external ecosystem)
  • Alignment of Different Stakeholders: Alight the above with what they have told you in your discussions in the earlier activity and put is across along with divisional head’s thoughts, so you can show the management a holistic picture of your understanding as an IT department about the business and operations. (7-10 Pages, talking about different departments, their goals, objectives, challenges & opportunities which includes their department head’s “quotes”)

‘Usually end of the requirement / demand section’

  • ICT’s Objectives: Mention clearly your ICT department’s objectives and how are they aligned with the organizational goals. (1 Page)

Word of Caution: Do not use the technical / technological terms like Cloud, server, storage, networks etc. because the management does not care and they don’t have to know about the technological boring jargon in the document (Most of the top management members are usually put off by this terminology)

Use business terms and language on how your department is going to help achieve both tangible and intangible goals of the management, shareholders, other departments and most importantly your customers (Citizens, Residents, and Visitors etc. for Government Organizations)

  • Guiding Principles: Collect all internal ICT documentation such as policies, principles & procedures especially which dictates on how your department is currently run, managed and governed to serve the organization effectively. If you don’t have them, create them with the help of your consulting partner and your internal team members, because you will need it for a longer run, not just for the IT Strategy. (5-6 pages)
  • IT’s Current State: This section is where you need to speak about what you are good at and where do you need to improve, for example it can be even small things (from management’s perspective not IT’s) you can talk about how in the last few years you have helped the organization have no issues related to emails, document archiving etc. Also do not forget to mention where you feel you could have improved and would like to improve in the due course of time.

 

Important Note: This above point has to speak about your strengths and scope of improvement, why? Because we are all humans and you as a CIO need to highlight this to the top management for your team’s hard work for years in those closed dungeons. From our experience of working on many IT Strategies with small and large organizations this will help you gain more respect and credibility from other departments and specially your management.

 

Many CIO’s don’t want to talk about their achievements and results thinking that it is their job, but at the same time your management needs to realize that IT is not about keeping the lights on but also something that can help the organization drive more value and differentiate in the market space. At the same time, it will also help them realize that there is an investment required in this department to improve on certain aspects. (3-5 Pages)

  • Setting the Right Expectations: Usually this section is the most difficult in the document to justify for a lot of CIO’s, however the best CIO’s who manage it well talk about the resources they own and the influence (We are not using the word ‘Control’) they have in the organization on certain processes & people.

This can be best explained by providing examples & use case from internal and external organizations and how certain things can be achieved in a certain period of time if the IT department is provided with the resources. This will help you, create a platform for a discussion with the top management (Worst case: The management knows you as a CIO need more resources to achieve what they want from you, and the expectations are set right)

The ability of IT to tackle business challenges and requirements also means having an access to resources, so as to cope up with those challenges and it is a rather fair assessment. As a CIO, you will have to explicitly share that allocated tasks to IT department cannot be completed unless you have the right set of resources (Skills, People, Infrastructure & Capital)

This section can be between 3-5 Pages ideally, not more!

  • IT’s About Value Proposition: In this section IT teams should be defining the success parameters for themselves and how tightly their success is linked to the overall organizational goals and objectives.  What the IT Department will deliver in terms of tangible and intangible benefits and results (In Business Terms) for the overall organization. You can also specify certain results linked to departments, teams, business units and individuals, where you will be able to add value which the organization is unaware of in the first place. (This requires a lot of thought and discussion internally and along with your consulting partner).

Many organizations also include strategic and tactical initiatives, which they will offer and propose to complete successfully and a list of activities which they will perform to achieve a required task.

This section is critical, because here you are going to commit to the organization based on the ‘set right expectations’ in the earlier section, this will provide the management an outlook of what you are actually going to do, your capabilities, shortfalls with the current or agreed resources allocated to the department.

Keep this section in the range of 3-6 Pages, don’t exceed unless you have a lot to offer which you will actually be able to execute and deliver in the set timelines.

Market & Sell: This activity is one of the most important things you will be doing from the time you have initiated the IT Strategy initiative, why? Because IT Strategies are not only made for IT Departments, but they are more importantly made for the entire organization. You as a CIO need to sell the idea first to get it rolling!

Some Examples which will help you think:

  1. One of the CIO’s, who works very closely with BluMatter’s experts created a communication program around the IT Strategy Initiative, involving the internal Marketing & PR team. By doing so, firstly she initiated a small game to ‘name’ the IT Strategy initiative, involving all employees with an incentive to give away an iPad to the best ‘name’ proposed by an employee. This led the entire organization know, that IT is working on the IT Strategy initiative and everyone felt on board in the initial stage.
  2. One of the other client’s rolled out large posters and banners in the entire organization, especially in the lobby’s and corridors, where people from other departments have conversations. So that they can see that IT team is working on something special and this encourages curiosity and discussion around it.
  3. One of the CIO’s asked the top management to issue a memo to the entire organization that they should be supporting and helping IT in the process of interviews and creation of the IT Strategy (This one is authoritative, and works in government organizations well)
  4. Intranet / Mailer’s: Many CIO’s use the intranet (if popular) or emails to make people aware what IT is up to? What have they done in the last quarter / month? Any new projects which have been rolled out successfully? What positive impact has a certain department or team seen?

The point we are trying to make here is that as a CIO, you should be engaging other departments and employees on this particular initiative, to lower resistance (You cannot eliminate it completely). As you don’t want to be in a board room with you colleagues talking about IT Strategy and they have no idea about what is going on?

Present: This is the bit, where you have completed your document creation, which is half job done! Now you need to carefully analyse the different stakeholders in the organization, their personalities, influence to the top management and what they think about your department?

From the time you have met them in the initial phases of the IT Strategy creation, to understand their top priorities, challenges and opportunities. It is a good idea to share with them the draft of your strategy to have a quick look and get back to you if they have anything to say about it. If they don’t see your document, they have lost the right to counter you aggressively when you actually present and talk about their department in specifics.

You need to come up with a 10 slide presentation, with minimalistic words & images which will emphasize your point and what you are trying to convey to your board and stakeholders about the entire strategy, if you are going above 10 slides, you are not doing a great job, this has to be short but high impact just like your strategy document.

Last point before you present, your objective is to sell the idea and get everyone on board. If you present well, market from the beginning, create a great value proposition for the organization in the process of 3-4 months. You have ticked all the important points and getting it approved will be easy.

Remember! IT strategy is about the journey and process that you & your team go through, not a document and presentation, as a consulting firm we can vouch for it based on many client experiences and interactions.

We know the blog was quiet long, but there is so much to this topic and so less explored in the real sense.

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