IT Strategy: Keeping it Real, Keeping it Relevant

Brian Wood Blog

“Where are we going?”

“What are our priorities?”

“Why aren’t we doing X?”

“Why are we doing Y?”

Summary post by Caron Carlson in FierceCIO and original article by Andrew Horne in the Corporate Executive Board.

Emphasis in red added by me.

Brian Wood, VP Marketing


How to make your IT strategy relevant

For an IT strategy to remain relevant in a rapidly changing business environment, it has to be both flexible and easy to explain, advises Andrew Horne in a blog post at the Corporate Executive Board. To make sure your strategy meets these requirements, take a look at the five characteristics that Horne recommends every IT strategy embrace.

First, keep the strategy to one page, focusing on the goal and the key actions needed to achieve it.

Second, begin by identifying the strategy’s business goals, not the technology involved, and then describe what people, processes and data are needed. If your company’s strategy is too vague to use, you might identify the business capabilities, which should describe the activities that are necessary for the desired goals.

Third, make the underlying business priority assumptions clear, and set up a process for re-assessing the strategy as assumptions change. Horne offers the example of a strategy for improving insight into customer value resting on the assumption that the finance and marketing departments are capable of analyzing customer value. “If this assumption holds true,” he writes, “then investments in analytics and improve[d] data governance make sense. If the assumption is false, then the strategy should change.”

Fourth, define the skills and positions necessary for meeting the strategic goals, and include a blueprint for acquiring them.

Fifth, perhaps most important of all, develop metrics to measure the strategy’s success. Metrics have a tendency to focus attention on the goals and highlight their importance.


Five Things Every IT Strategic Plan Should Have

The work environment is changing fast. To navigate these changes, IT needs a strategy that is flexible and easy-to-explain. At CEB we review many IT strategic plans. Here are five ways in which the best stand out.

1. A Strategy on a Page. A good IT strategy can be summarized on one page. The strategy should identify a goal and describe the most critical actions needed to meet that goal. If this takes more than a page, the goal is either too vague, or the plans to meet the goal are diffuse.

The discipline of fitting everything on one page will make the strategy tighter and more effective. The strategy will also be easier to communicate. IT strategies have many audiences – CEO and business stakeholders, the IT team, and vendors—none of which have the time to read a strategy that is dozens of pages long.

2. Start with Business Objectives, not Technologies. An IT strategy is not the place to explain the latest cool technology, nor should it offer a laundry list of technology projects. A strategy should identify the company’s goals, and define the capabilities (people, process, and data, not just technology) needed to meet those goals. In some organizations, the company strategy will be well documented. At others, the CIO’s first task is to work with other business leaders to define a company strategy. This is not easy, but trying to write an IT strategy in the absence of a company strategy is pointless.

Even when a company strategy exists, it is usually too vague to be useful to IT. Progressive companies address the problem by defining business capabilities. Business capabilities are a structured way to express the activities needed to achieve a specific business outcome. Business capabilities have several other uses, for example, in architecture roadmapping, so the effort to define them during strategic planning will pay dividends later.

3. The World of Work is Changing, so Should IT Strategy. All IT strategies rely on assumptions about business priorities, value drivers, economic trends, and technology maturity. Many of these assumptions change rapidly. To keep up, a strategy should make the assumptions clear and include a process to re-evaluate the strategy as the assumptions change.

For example, a strategy to improve insight into customer value might be based on the assumption that marketing and finance staff have the skills to conduct customer value analysis. If this assumption holds true, then investments in analytics and improve data governance make sense. If the assumption is false, then the strategy should change.

4. Don’t Forget the TalentMany IT strategies ignore the impact on IT talent. An effective strategy should define the competencies and roles needed to meet the strategic goals and provide a plan to close any gaps. This means that a talent assessment is often an important planning input.

5. What Gets Measured Gets Done – Perhaps the single biggest strategic planning challenge is ensuring that the strategy is implemented. Even the best written, most creative strategy is worthless if it is not followed through. Establishing metrics to measure the attainment of each strategic goal is one way to ensure progress. The metrics signal the importance of the goals and direct attention toward goals which are lagging. This is so important that the IT scorecard should be “unbalanced” in favor of strategic metrics. In other words, disproportionate weight should be given to metrics that measure strategic goals.