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How to create an IT strategy

How to create an IT strategy

Here are 7 steps for creating a technology strategy that will work.

The accountability and strength of your IT strategy can have an incredible impact on your organisation. Naturally, the effectiveness of this strategy will directly correlate with the level of success you enjoy during your tenure.

Here are 7 steps for creating a technology strategy that will work.

Step 1: Build a team

As a CIO, you must lead and drive the whole strategy from start to finish. This doesn’t mean that you do all the work. Put together a team of people who have a sense of ownership. You want absolutely everyone to buy into your strategy.

Look for direct reports that have a passion for this topic and engage them. Also consider leaders who actually need to develop a stronger strategic focus – people who get along with and respect others and want to be challenged.

In the past, I have used an ‘Office of the CIO’ construct as a way to ensure people work closely with me and help build the strategy. This improves engagement and helps to develop the skills of staff members on the team. In a previous role, I discovered that some of skip level managers knew more about IT strategy than some of my direct leaders.

Step 2: Align with the business’ objectives

The classic approach is to be aligned with the business strategy. As a CIO, you are both part of the business and represent IT, so by definition, this process of alignment requires you to educate others and yourself to deep dive into the business.

This engagement and feedback process is critical to attain the magic moment of alignment. It is true to say that alignment is not a ‘natural’ state and requires you to be open to input and to take a real stance on what matters.

Being aligned with your supervisor; be that CEO, COO or CFO is not sufficient. Your c-level colleagues sometimes don’t have the answers.

From my experience, the litmus test for alignment is that the executives all understand and accept how the projects are prioritised when the whole process is completed. This does not mean that they are totally ‘happy’, but agree that the strategy reflects the business’ objectives.

Step 3: Draw up a proper plan

Create a plan that establishes the correct parameters and illustrates exactly what needs to happen during at least two, and ideally three years. Unfortunately, many enterprises create plans with a myopic one year view.

It’s right to assume that team members will become somewhat less confident about certain details and hitting some goals as time goes on but it is important to ensure you continue to be focused on long-term objectives. During the planning process, demand for people to complete certain tasks will often exceed supply, and your peers will have their own ‘pet’ projects.

Taking a medium to long-term view will allow a true transformation to be planned and executed. Such large-scale changes always take more time and effort than anticipated so make this clear to your team.

I once worked for an organisation that went five years without creating a tech strategy – there were many strategic projects all linked to business goals but no comprehensive plan or agenda. Yes there were plans and successful projects but they all had a ‘one year’ view. Nobody planned beyond this and as a result, tactics overruled strategy.

Step 4: Align the architecture roadmap with the strategy

Having the IT strategy and architecture roadmap fully aligned is mandatory – it’s essential to have some clarity on the ‘wants, needs and givens.’ The architecture roadmap provides a ‘lens’ on these givens along with grounding on the current and future state.

Your architecture roadmap needs to provide a technical view of the maturity of the current applications and hardware infrastructure. It must highlight when this equipment reaches end-of-life – this is often the ‘forgotten cousin’ that nobody wants to discuss. Linking new business initiatives with the remediation of legacy apps and systems will provide the reality check you need to maintain the right balance for your IT strategy.

The best practice is to use an architecture roadmap as an ‘artifact’ to represent discussions between the IT group and the rest of the business.

There is a natural hesitation to share too much with business partners but in reality, not sharing is a mistake because your architecture and strategy team needs to be engaged with key stakeholders to build a common lexicon and understanding. This has to start by explaining how a detailed technical architecture supports planned changes across the business.

Step 5: Make strategic choices

There will never be sufficient funds and resources to meet every demand regardless of the size of your enterprise. This is always a hard pill for the business partners to swallow and there will be strong push to over commit. Your role is to be clear about these limitations.

I’m sure that are moments where the business has clear business strategies and priorities, but frankly this is not the rule. Even the best-planned enterprises will have ‘ad hoc’ regulatory or strategic projects that emerge out of the planning timeframe.

One key tip to identify planning assumptions and make it clear exactly what is included in the strategy. For example, staff utilisation might be 100 per cent at the start of the year but you need to allow for holidays, training or vacancies.

Another key thing to think about is what I call ‘discovery’ – there will always be strategic digital projects or similar that comes from the top and require investigation. There has to be a plan for this so a budget can be allocated.

Step 6: Realise the ‘business of IT’

Your IT strategy needs to provide a framework for how IT is to be managed. This is what I call the ‘business of IT’ and this framework includes ‘organisational architecture’ aspects such as structure, capability and competencies.

You are accountable for driving this agenda and ensuring that the enterprise understands how IT is improving.  The ‘business of IT’ will also address how IT will execute, incorporating engagement models with the business and more specifically, how DevOps or Agile methodologies will be taught to the team.

During this step, you are required to develop the target operating model and challenge the status quo.

Step 7: Sign off

You are near the end but it is not over yet. A symbolic process is the engagement and communications using broad and targeted messages. To this end a comprehensive plan of sharing with executive bosses, peers and within the IT function is needed.

This will require repetition and planning to ensure that the timing of these engagements all work with the overall timetable of the IT strategy. The very process of this engagement will mean that the actual sign off is already embedded and there’s nothing new that is revealed in the final read out.

Once the strategy is signed off and endorsed, it can then be shared more broadly across the enterprise. Having this level of endorsement from the CEO and c-suite is a critical step and will help you gain ground level support.

You’re now ready to start executing, good luck.

Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

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