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Another take on IT strategy

In September, I discussed a report on why small and medium-sized businesses should take information technology strategy and planning seriously. Essentially, according to the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, if you don’t strategize your IT, you’re probably wasting time and money just keeping up, when you could be using your resources to support your strategic business plan.

Well, I hope you didn’t rush away after reading that piece and create and implement an IT strategy.

another-take-on-it-strategyIn a recent Computer World column, Thornton May, IT journalist and dean of the IT Leadership Academy, agrees with the CICA’s conclusions, but offers deeper insight into what’s wrong with IT planning and offers further explanation of the need for valid IT strategy. “IT planning is broken”, he says plainly. Many businesses today either don’t bother developing an IT plan or feel that IT planning is a waste of time. And most planning that does occur doesn’t look beyond the next year and a half. There’s a reason for that: technology just moves too fast these days.

Still, planning is crucial, says May, and it should definitely align with an organization’s overall business strategy.

“Without an effective and respected IT planning process, IT professionals are doomed to play a physically and psychologically exhausting game of whack-a-mole that they can’t win because they are forever trying to catch up with ever-increasing business-unit demands.

“The ultimate objective of any IT planning process is to establish clear objectives for the IT organization that link directly back to the enterprise’s strategic business goals. With this linkage, the IT organization can craft practicable execution plans and credible financial forecasts.”

May offers the following outline for IT planning:

  1. Where are we?
  2. Where do we want to go?
  3. How do we get there?
  4. How do we, the IT team, convince the enterprise to make the trip?

Depending on the time frame, and given the quickly changing consumer technology landscape, a “final” plan might refer to desired outcomes or applications that don’t currently exist or are not yet on the market. In other words, your IT plan should be about supporting what goals you want to accomplish five, ten or fifteen years down the road, not just what bits and pieces you want to have.

However, May believes that “traditional IT planning—the laborious, time-consuming, top-down ‘mission, vision, strategy, goals’ juggernaut that still appears in many MBA textbooks—is no longer viable”. Moreover, he disagrees with the CICA that an organization can start its IT planning before it completes its business plan:

“The first step toward developing a respected IT planning process is to have an intimate and thorough understanding of the business strategy. This is where many organizations go off the rails, simply because they do not have a clearly articulated business strategy.”

Where does that leave you? If you don’t have a complete business plan, you still probably need computers and phone systems and so on, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular can hardly afford to waste money. The CICA and May offer two different approaches: developing your IT and overall business strategies together, or building your IT strategy on top of your business plan.

Personally, I can see the value for SMEs in parallel strategic development, as these types of organization are often more flexible in their actions and goals than larger enterprises. But heed May’s warning: without a firm business plan, it’s hard to have a clear idea of what the organization will need in the coming years.

Adam Gorley
First Reference Human Resources, Internal Controls and Compliance Editor

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Adam Gorley

Editor at First Reference
Adam Gorley, B.A. (Phil.), is a researcher, content provider and editor. He contributes regularly to First Reference Talks and Internal Control blogs, HRinfodesk and other First Reference publications. His areas of focus include broad human resources issues, corporate social responsibility, corporate governance and government policies, information technology and labour market trends.Read more
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2 thoughts on “Another take on IT strategy
  • Adam Gorley says:

    I think you’re right for the most part Christina. Any plan besides the overall business plan exists to serve the main plan, so it is surely most important to have a clear idea of what the business is about and what it hopes to achieve before delving into marketing or IT strategies.

    However, it might make sense to sketch rough outlines of such “secondary” plans during the drafting of a business plan—at least ideas and so on. The secondary plans will affect how a business operates so it makes sense that they will affect how a business plan is written.

    On the other hand, with respect to IT plans at least, certain businesses will probably find it imperative to develop their strategies in parallel, since IT considerations may play a major part in the success of the business. I think this would mostly be the case with enterprises that rely heavily on technology.

    Certainly though, there would have to be clear and strong communication among teams drafting separate strategies, regardless of whether they happen concurrently or at different times.

  • Adam,

    Interesting post. I think this is a very common dilemma in business today. There are just so many plans to make: the business plan, the marketing plan, and the IT plan. Which comes first?

    I think businesses must first know where they are going (the business plan) and what resources will be available to do this, and then develop corresponding marketing and IT plans that compliment and bolster the business plan so the business goes in the desired direction.

    In my view, the problem with different people working on different plans simultaneously is the lack of communication and ability to facilitate all the ideas. For instance, the IT department may have important concerns and want to do x, but the drafters of the business plan did not accommodate it due to lack of resources for that particular period. Or, the marketing department may have ideas to accomplish y, but it doesn’t work with the business plan.

    What do you think?