May 5 2019
For many IT managers, creating a high-quality IT strategy is probably one of the most difficult things to get right. In my experience, many IT manages struggle from the outset primarily and simply because they (and their bosses) are not clear on exactly what strategy is and what is required.
The dictionary defines strategy as “a (high level) plan to achieve a long-term goal.” IT strategy is doubly difficult because it needs to align to the top-level business strategy. And like Chinese whispers, if the top level is not clear, then the chances to get IT strategy right diminish. The plain truth is that most top-level strategy is too vague. It often gets confused with vision statements which do nothing than add meaningless puffery.
The first thing I would say to any IT manager is to make sure your plan is specific. Your long-term future needs to be defined with specific quantified objectives. The balanced scorecard is a great place to start. It is also vital to identify the big pieces of the puzzle at the beginning. In other words, focus on the top level and the big things (aside from the day-to-day) that really need fixing? Once this is clear and fixed, you can go down to the next level and add the detail (if you really must).
The most effective IT strategy is also one that is easy to explain. And one of the best ways to achieve this is to divide it up into a few manageable and autonomous sections. NASA has a saying: “To solve an impossible problem, break it into two really difficult ones.” Or better still, in the case of IT strategy, break it into several pieces – ideally one for each significant part of the business. For example, you might have a mini-strategy for addressing the priorities of the sales and marketing department, perhaps one for customer service and so on. You will still have the company-wide systems (e.g. email, Sharepoint) piece to work out, but the principle of segmenting your strategy will certainly help with its clarity and hence its acceptance and adoption. If you want to learn more about this technique, the book The McKinsey Way by Ethan Rasiel gives a great explanation as to how McKinsey breaks down (strategic) problems using a technique called MECE.
Clearly one of the most important attributes of the IT strategy is to align it to the top-level business strategy. But this is a lot more difficult than it sounds. According to our delegates, only 20% of companies have a business strategy that is helpful in developing the IT strategy. Even if you did have a clear corporate strategy, aligning to this alone does not mean you are aligned to each of the departments. To get an aligned strategy, I highly recommend speaking to each of the business unit heads individually to understand their individual priorities. Chances are they have their own department (strategic) plan that they will share with you.
The next recommendation is to challenge the IT strategy you have put together. My second quote is from Emile Chartier: “There is nothing as dangerous as an idea when it is the only one you have.” To put this in the context of an IT strategy, you should not stop after the first version. You should ask questions around it such as “Is there a better way?”, “Will this plan withstand current known threats?” and so on.
About the Author
David is a leading global trainer within IT management. He runs courses on IT management and leadership based on his well-received book publications Excellent IT Management and Excellent IT Leadership. The books are based on his own experience as an international CIO and those of the 2,000 delegates who have benefitted from his courses.
David presents at conferences worldwide as an authority on technology leadership. Specialist topics include IT strategy, change leadership, IT operational excellence, building world class IT and IT governance. He was one of the architects of the FastTrack business series with titles including FastTrack Strategy, FastTrack Innovation and FastTrack Project Management. The series has been translated into several languages and has sold over 50,000 copies in 20 countries.
David's most recent corporate role was as Head of IT for Cable & Wireless where he was responsible for a major technology transformation program, and the largest in-source project in the UK at the time. He has also worked as CIO for UPC in Holland and AT&T in Asia, and as Director of IT for Bouygues in France.
David has spent many years working in various IT leadership positions in different businesses. He holds an MA in Engineering Science (electronics) from Cambridge University and an MSc in High Frequency Electronics from University College, London.