Many of the critical systems that businesses rely on are built on technology platforms – from sales and development, to accounting and business functions, to HR. Because of this, organizations that leverage technology effectively understand that technology is an integral business partner and not a standalone function that “keeps the lights on.” Technology also represents a significant capital and operational investment, so it is essential that technology solutions are deployed strategically.
Understanding Business Needs
The first step in developing an effective IT strategy is Aligning Business Needs to IT Solutions. By ensuring that executive, departmental, and IT leadership have a mutual understanding of business needs, organizations ensure that their priorities are supported by the most appropriate, effective, and sustainable technology solutions. It is important to consider both tactical and strategic needs, as well as how priorities will evolve over various time horizons – a useful starting point will be to look at time periods of six months, one year, and three-to-five years.
Once the organization’s business needs have been defined, the technology leader should engage with stakeholders representing corporate and organizational leadership, in order to determine the priority of their respective initiatives. It will be useful to look at initiatives within each time horizon, and develop an understanding of dependencies for their execution. It is important to refine departmental priorities so that they directly support the broader business mission at the appropriate stage of overall program development and execution.
Budgeting to Implement a Sustainable Technology Strategy
Technology strategic plans are not feasible or sustainable if they are not aligned to operating and/or capital budgets. It is important that departmental goals are aligned with the organizational budget. It is also important that technology initiatives meet budgetary requirements, both within the department and as part of the overall organizational budget.
A technology program is not really effective until there is a budget for it, and it is not sustainable unless there is a budget for its ongoing support and maintenance.
There are very few technology purchases that should be thought of as one-time investments. It is more important to consider the full lifecycle cost than it is to look at the budget impact in year one. The lifecycle cost will include the initial cost (including purchase price, implementation cost, and training), the annual maintenance cost (inclusive of licensing renewals and operational support), and the replacement/refresh cost at the end of the product lifecycle.
Architecting Solutions and Developing the Plan
It is helpful to approach the development of an effective IT strategy plan systematically. For each item that is uncovered during discovery, the technology leader should work with the business leader to determine the ways that the objective relies on technology. Discuss ways that technology can deliver new solutions, or the ways that technology can help make existing processes more effective and efficient.
Remember that technology solutions do not exist to serve themselves – every technology solution must be in service of a specific business goal. Strategic plans should include several key elements: the objective being met; the specific way that the objective will be met; how success will be measured; and the improvement to business performance that the organization expects to realize.
Throughout the strategic planning process, remember the key elements of an organizational technology strategy:
- The business goals that the plan supports.
- The people who the plan will serve.
- The people who will implement the strategy.
Organizations can maximize the value of their technology investments and improve performance and customer service delivery, by ensuring that technology strategy exists in service of overall business and customer needs. It needs to be aligned to a sustainable operating and capital budget, and that the strategy is architected according to a robust strategy framework.