Technology as a strategic enabler

Many organisations ask us to assist them in developing an Information Services Strategic Plan (ISSP). Some have a fair idea of what they want to achieve but no clear path to structuring, communicating and selling this to the Executive. Others are unaware that the plans they have been using merely indicate how to ‘keep the lights’ on and do not provide a strategic direction.

A strong ISSP supports an organisation’s strategic direction; it is a key document for planning and implementing new ICT initiatives as it guides and informs decisions on any changes to technology, is an integral part of an organisation’s future focus and articulates how technology supports business performance. The following are several key steps that will ensure you build a plan that clearly communicates your intentions, adds value and provides the ability to match the organisation’s aspirations for growth.

Step 1: Review the organisation’s strategic goals and align with technology projects and goals

Developing an effective ISSP should first start with a review of the organisation’s strategic plan. Often after listing out the strategic and tactical plans of the organisation, the areas where technology could enhance or enable such plans becomes apparent. An ISSP should align with the Statement of Intent, business strategies, wider industry strategies and fit within the constraints of the capital expenditure plan.

If one of your strategic goals is to become ’a premier provider of xx services,’ how is that goal going to be achieved? What is a premier provider, and what tools would enable your staff to become such a provider?

Also ask yourself how you will know that you have achieved success? Establishing measurable Key Success Indicators is one way to ensure you have metrics in place that provide valuable data.

Step 2: Interview members of the organisation

Without asking the organisation what is being delivered and what it needs you will only be guessing. The next step is to collect information from the executive and operational staff about business opportunities, risks and issues and to understand their needs. This information should be collected in a variety of ways so that common themes can be extrapolated, and that the analysis shows trends and direction. A well developed set of questions will be necessary so you provide consistency.

Example: The survey questions are designed to ask the users of the IT systems to rank their opinions about the mindset of the organisation as far as IT investment is concerned. The data collected might be sorted to show the following common issues:

  • The organisation as a whole has a desire to be perceived as an ‘Innovator or Early Adopter’ in their use of IT
  • Technology that is currently available is not being utilised effectively, indicating the reasons (e.g. a lack of training or limited support).

Step 3: Assess current IT spending and what budget restrictions or opportunities exist

Take a critical look at how IT is funded in your organisation and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is Information Technology considered a ‘cost’ of doing business or an ‘enabler’ for the business to succeed?
  • Do you replace systems when they break or are there multi-year plans to upgrade systems?
  • Do you include IT Leadership on the organisation’s Executive team?
  • Would outsourcing some or all of IT for your organisation lower IT expenditure?
  • Is there a cloud adoption strategy in place?

Step 4: Systems review and service catalogue

Assessing your systems environment and service catalogue (if you do not have one now is the time to create one) is essential to understanding what the business requires. Having a list of all systems out there and assessing what services are being delivered or not delivered may present some surprises. The best way to start the process is to identify all the applications currently in use in the organisation and determine with the users who the owner is, if the application is meeting the current and future needs and when the application could be considered for replacement or enhancement.

Step 5: Review the gaps between the strategic goals and the current operations

Armed with all the above information, the next steps are to identify the gaps between the desired state and the current state of the organisation. Examples of some of the gaps could include:

  • Growth goals for the organisation may not be in line with current IT investment
  • IT staff may be improperly sized to support growth or meet the current needs
  • End users lack sufficient training to maximise the use of existing applications
  • IT systems, hardware and infrastructure may need to be replaced to meet the goals.

Step 6: Develop the IT short-term and long-term project plan/timeline

With the gaps identified, you can now prioritise projects over a multi-year period and create that elusive long-range technology vision. Because of the dependencies upon other IT projects, this is best done by IT staff or consultants with a technology background. At a high-level, the Executive Leadership team can direct the priorities of the organisation and then these priorities can be assembled into a project timeline.

Step 7: Give Information Technology a ’Seat at the Table’

Now that you have created the technology vision for your organisation, the goal needs to be to continue to update and develop the plan as things change. None of us can anticipate a major downturn in the economy or an opportunity for growth within your organisation that becomes available a few years from now. It does not matter if your organisation has a small IT team or a large one; you need to have someone in the organisation that represents the IT department included in your strategic planning and operational planning processes. The only way that your technology vision can be kept current with the organisation’s vision is to include them in the process.

Following these steps with a competent advisor by your side will ensure you build a strong, robust ISSP that forms a roadmap for your technology strategy now and into the future.

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