The Importance of IT Strategic Planning

I think that Information Technology (IT) plays one of the most important roles in the day-to-day operation of today’s businesses.  IT may not be the business your organization is in, but it certainly keeps things working as they should and keeps folks informed about what’s going on.  Most folks I ask tell me that IT is one of the top expenditures in their organization today. IT often represents 15 to 20% of the organization’s annual budget and the percentage seems to be growing every year.  Given this percentage, effective strategic planning focusing specifically on IT seems essential to success.

The Oxford dictionary defines IT as “the study or use of systems such as computers and telecommunications for storing, retrieving and sending information.” When I think of IT, I think of things like data management, computer technology, computer programming, networking, software, software applications and telecommunications.  I always make the distinction between Information Systems (IS) and IT.  To me, IS actually is the information or data, which may not be computerized or digitized, while IT is typically defined as the systems that store, retrieve and send that data.

IT is a double-edged sword to most organizations, delivering value to organizations and bringing challenges as well. To realize more benefits and fewer challenges, I think that IT must be planned and managed.  That makes IT strategic planning a managerial activity, not just something the technical teams do in their free time. Some of the added value IT brings to an organization includes:

  • Cost reduction through automation of tasks
  • Computerized data management
  • Improved collaboration
  • Electronic data transfer
  • Knowledge management

Seems like we never add value without adding risks and challenges! On the flip side, here are a few of the challenges that IT brings to organizations:

  • IT projects over budget and behind schedule
  • IT projects not delivering expected value
  • IT “magic” is often misunderstood
  • Faults and security create new risks

In a nutshell, IT strategic planning is a structured attempt to maximize the impact of IT on your organization while controlling its cost and managing the associated changes.  Many organizations manage IT as a “business within the business”.  That means that IT delivers services to the business in the most optimized way possible, understands its “clients”, engages those clients and delivers results and value.

IT strategic planning addresses the design/development/acquisition of IT solutions, implementation/support of those solutions and the modernization of existing, legacy solutions within the organization. IT strategic planning can be achieved by following a few basic steps:

  1. Engaging stakeholders in a structured planning approach
  2. Prioritizing the IT efforts and resources across the organization and its pieces and parts
  3. Establishing your IT governance structure and approach
  4. Monitoring IT performance across the organization
  5. Managing IT value and measuring business benefits
  6. Aligning the business and IT to achieve the maximum possible outcome

IT strategic planning is needed in most organizations in order to sustain the business strategy, control costs, manage risks and clarify the benefits that our costly IT initiatives provide to the business as well as their end users. Be warned that organizations have different maturity level when it comes to their IT strategic planning efforts.  If you get involved in your organization’s IT strategic planning activities, be sure you have a sense of the maturity of processes surrounding the effort. The less mature you organization is in this area, the more time you will have to spend defining and selling the benefits of doing the work in the first place.

Next time, we will take a look at the recommended contents and focus of an IT-specific strategic plan. Be sure to check out Learning Tree’s 3-day strategic planning and implementation course if you are looking for a great way to get started or fine tune your skills and approach to IT strategic planning.  

Susan Weese

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