How to Get Real About Strategic Planning

How to Get Real About Strategic Planning

Everyone agrees that having a strategic plan for IT is a good thing but most CIOs approach the process with fear and loathing. In fact, the majority of CIOs (and the enterprises they work for) are faking it when it comes to strategic planning. Isn't it time we all got real?

Oh, it must be nice to be the CIO of a FedEx or a GE or a Credit Suisse. Places where IT and the business are so tightly aligned you can barely tell the two apart. Where corporate leaders understand that IT is a strategic asset and support it as such. Where the CIO is encouraged to spend the majority of his time on the Big Picture. If one works in that kind of IT Wonderland, getting a good strategic plan down on paper is probably a snap.

But the vast majority of CIOs work in places where the business itself may not have a clearly articulated strategy. Where corporate leaders don't care too much for IT, much less value it strategically. Where the CIO's time is devoured by day-to-day operations and there's little time left to look beyond the next few months. If one lives with that kind of tactical IT reality, getting a good strategic plan down on paper is practically impossible.

Given the choice between creating an IT strategic plan and having a root canal, many CIOs would choose the periodontist

Which is to say that for most CIOs, putting together an IT strategic plan - that annual road map to guide IT through the next 12 months and beyond - is dauntingly hard. (For more on what should go into it, see "Anatomy of an IT Strategic Plan", end of story)

But while the odds may be stacked against the average CIO, the truth is that those IT leaders who don't master the art of strategic planning won't last long. "The purpose of the IT strategic plan is to improve the business-IT relationship. A CIO needs it to communicate with the business, to tell them that he understands the company's needs and to set expectations," says Alex Cullen, Forrester Research vice president and research director. "A CIO can't succeed without it."

Michael Jones, CIO of the National Marrow Donor Program, calls it "the business case for IT". Here's how you can overcome the four most common obstacles to penning that increasingly critical document.

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