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IT Strategic Planning: A Road Trip

Imagine you’re going on a road trip.  So you go out and buy a car, load it up with stuff, and head east.  Fantastic!

Some of us enjoy a simple vacation this way.  I did that once (I ended up in Disneyland, but that’s another story) a few years back and had a great time. For most people, many important questions pop up.  Where are you headed?  How are you going to get there? Did you pack the right supplies?  In this case, let’s hope that you don’t live on the east coast …

As we dive into our road trip, we discover that there is more of a plan than just heading east.  We’re actually going to Disney World (south-east), stopping at a BBQ festival in Texas (going south first), then picking up friends in New Orleans, and finally heading to Orlando. It’s also important that the trip is cost effective and we see the country – that’s why we’re driving!

Most companies have a business plan and/or strategic plan they refresh regularly to guide the company.  It lays out the companies long, medium and short term goals, and a general framework for how to reach them.  For our trip, this equates to the destination, stops along the way, and other details.

With business and strategic planning process in place, why is it that many companies don’t follow through and create an IT strategic plan? Every company, no matter the size, should involve IT in their planning processes.  It’s like knowing where the destination is (Disney World) and the stops along the way, but still just buying “a car” and “going east”.

Where the strategic plan provides the destination and some of the stops along the road trip, the IT strategic plan can help find the fastest (or most scenic) route between stops, maximize mileage, make sure you have the right car and can even help find other stops worth making.

Had we simply bought a car and headed east, we might have bought the fancy sports car and headed in the wrong direction – we had to go south first!  Worse, with the sports car couldn’t pickup our friends and we’d rush across the country.  That wouldn’t meet any of the goals of the trip.  If I were driving, we might even get enough speeding tickets that we wouldn’t make it to see Mickey.

This is the approach most companies take with IT – the “IT guy” goes out and buys some network equipment, a server or two, and computers for people.  If there is a plan, it’s purely operational. (more on Strategic vs. Tactical vs. Operational coming in a future article!)

While an operational approach can work for most small to mid-sized businesses, especially early in the company’s life, it’s far from optimal.  If you just buy a car, even if you buy one with enough seats for my passengers, you could miss out on many options that would be better for you and the trip.

IT has to be part of the company’s strategic planning process.  With a strong understanding of the business, its goals, and its values, IT can develop a plan to support, and drive, towards those goals using technology.

Going back to our story, it’s also IT’s job to find new and improved routes along the way, highlight things to see and do at each stop, and find ways to make the trip better.  This is part of process improvement and innovation, an area where most IT departments fall short.

With the right plan in place, IT can be sure it’s supporting the company appropriately, helping drive towards the company’s goals, and making the necessary course corrections and improvements along the way.   This is the path to having IT aligned with business, and becoming a strategic asset.

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