In September, I discussed a report on why small and medium-sized businesses should take information technology strategy and planning seriously. Essentially, according to the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, if you don’t strategize your IT, you’re probably wasting time and money just keeping up, when you could be using your resources to support your strategic business plan.
Well, I hope you didn’t rush away after reading that piece and create and implement an IT strategy.
In a recent Computer World column, Thornton May, IT journalist and dean of the IT Leadership Academy, agrees with the CICA’s conclusions, but offers deeper insight into what’s wrong with IT planning and offers further explanation of the need for valid IT strategy. “IT planning is broken”, he says plainly. Many businesses today either don’t bother developing an IT plan or feel that IT planning is a waste of time. And most planning that does occur doesn’t look beyond the next year and a half. There’s a reason for that: technology just moves too fast these days.
Still, planning is crucial, says May, and it should definitely align with an organization’s overall business strategy.
“Without an effective and respected IT planning process, IT professionals are doomed to play a physically and psychologically exhausting game of whack-a-mole that they can’t win because they are forever trying to catch up with ever-increasing business-unit demands.
“The ultimate objective of any IT planning process is to establish clear objectives for the IT organization that link directly back to the enterprise’s strategic business goals. With this linkage, the IT organization can craft practicable execution plans and credible financial forecasts.”
- Where are we?
- Where do we want to go?
- How do we get there?
- How do we, the IT team, convince the enterprise to make the trip?
Depending on the time frame, and given the quickly changing consumer technology landscape, a “final” plan might refer to desired outcomes or applications that don’t currently exist or are not yet on the market. In other words, your IT plan should be about supporting what goals you want to accomplish five, ten or fifteen years down the road, not just what bits and pieces you want to have.
However, May believes that “traditional IT planning—the laborious, time-consuming, top-down ‘mission, vision, strategy, goals’ juggernaut that still appears in many MBA textbooks—is no longer viable”. Moreover, he disagrees with the CICA that an organization can start its IT planning before it completes its business plan:
“The first step toward developing a respected IT planning process is to have an intimate and thorough understanding of the business strategy. This is where many organizations go off the rails, simply because they do not have a clearly articulated business strategy.”
Where does that leave you? If you don’t have a complete business plan, you still probably need computers and phone systems and so on, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular can hardly afford to waste money. The CICA and May offer two different approaches: developing your IT and overall business strategies together, or building your IT strategy on top of your business plan.
Personally, I can see the value for SMEs in parallel strategic development, as these types of organization are often more flexible in their actions and goals than larger enterprises. But heed May’s warning: without a firm business plan, it’s hard to have a clear idea of what the organization will need in the coming years.
First Reference Human Resources, Internal Controls and Compliance Editor