The choices you make about your technology can make or break the success of your overall business strategy and impact your competitive position for years to come. So how do you get your IT strategy right?
The organisational business strategy lays out the vision and goals of the organisation and the steps required to reach them. An IT strategy should naturally flow from the objectives of the business strategy and use them as an anchor and guide for the IT strategy development. But this can often be a challenge to put into practice.
In this article, we walk through our five-step process for creating an IT strategy that you can align with your business strategy.
Why strategy should be an iterative process
Most planning processes in modern businesses do not take place in isolation. Key stakeholders look at their current circumstances, see where they want to go, identify gaps in processes and resources that are hindering these changes, then map out a plan to take them there. When complete, the cycle repeats.
There’s no difference when it comes to IT strategy. The idea is to develop a plan that enables the organisation to act on opportunities swiftly and overcome shortcomings using technology and processes. These actions should align with larger business goals, enabling new actions and removing barriers to everyday activities.
What’s involved in aligning IT strategy to business goals?
An aligned IT strategy cycles through five key stages. These include:
- Understanding business requirements
- Defining an ideal future state
- Reviewing the current state
- Identifying gaps
- Developing a road map and budget
Developing an aligned IT strategy is more than just drafting a list of actions to tick off and producing a report. An IT strategy requires an iterative process where key stakeholders regularly revisit each step in the process. This process lets stakeholders and users apply what they’ve learned and return with fresh insights to keep the business and IT strategies aligned with changing circumstances.
So, how can you do this yourself?
Step one: understanding business requirements
- Identify, contact, and engage key stakeholders.
- Review business vision, goals, and strategies.
The first step in understanding the IT strategy’s direction is identifying the individuals critical to efficient organisational function. It might be obvious to include c-suite executives on this list, but it also pays to ensure that other operational lynch-pin personnel are involved in the process.
Once you have a list of key stakeholders, you’re in a position to identify the critical business drivers and goals. A lot of this information is available in existing business plans, departmental goals, previous reviews, or even documents such as risk registries and software selection criteria.
However, interviews with key staff can help shed light on issues that may not have made their way into official reporting systems.
It is certainly possible to perform each stage of the cycle in-house. But that doesn’t mean it’s always desirable or efficient. External independent input can help deliver fresh perspectives and professional insights into how new technologies can overcome strategic challenges.
Step two: define future state
- Identify activities and workflows that help the organisation meet its goals.
- Highlight solutions that enable these activities.
With a clear understanding of what your organisation needs from IT, it’s now time to envision an IT ecosystem that brings these ideas to life.
This process could take the shape of enabling increased levels of automation, enabling a more robust work-from-home set-up, or growing the capacity of internal cybersecurity mitigation strategies.
Overcoming bottlenecks and preparing for future opportunities is the key to building better organisational flows that deliver on your business requirements. But no matter what the ideal is, it’s essential to know what IT systems you need to make IT projects happen.
Step three: review current state
- Categorise your IT environment into components and perform an audit of all infrastructure and applications used by the organisation and its employees.
- Outline the existing resources that are critical for risk management and industry/legal compliance.
In practice, you can perform steps one and two in any order. While it makes sense to define your ideal state first, it may make sense in some circumstances to map out your current environment at the start or in parallel.
Your auditing goal should go beyond documenting physical assets, assessing the suitability and risks of critical elements within your IT environment in their current state.
While the purpose of your IT strategy development is to outline how your desired state works with your budget to meet future goals, it’s essential not to ignore or delay your response to material risks that are present today.
On top of these important considerations, it’s vital to ensure that you have a firm understanding of how your current organisational strategy integrates IT into daily operations. Suppose it’s mandatory to log a specific activity using a particular method (such as submitting a report via email or sharing a file through a secure cloud link). In that case, you need to include these requirements as part of your organisation’s current IT state.
You should perform this iterative audit regularly regardless of your need to develop an IT strategy. With a list of disaster recovery programs and network considerations, you will have a complete understanding of where your organisation currently stands concerning its IT environment.
Step four: identify gaps
- Analyse differences between current and future states for gaps in existing ICT infrastructure.
- Investigate ways to utilise current ICT resources in the ideal state.
Now that you have a clear view of your current IT environment, it’s time to compare your ideal state to what you have on hand. The gaps you find between your current and ideal future states will help inform the strategies you develop to overcome organisation shortcomings and take advantage of new opportunities moving forward.
Don’t immediately dismiss solutions that don’t fit in with your ideal state. You may find that you can repurpose many of the resources you currently have available to fit into your new strategy.
This step closely resembles a security assessment. It examines areas of concern in the IT and operational environment and identifies opportunities to embed technology in organisational workflows.
Step five: road map and budget
- Map out purchases and costs associated with the ideal state.
- Link budget to the potential return on investment from the ideal state.
By this stage in the IT strategy process, you will have enough information to build out the processes required to bring your ideal future state into reality. But creating an IT roadmap involves more than knowing the destination. It’s also vital to ensure that your priorities and budget guide the route you take to achieve your ideal IT state.
For example, while your desired state may require enhancing your customer experience with upgraded online tools, these solutions may require specific infrastructure. However, if the infrastructure underpinning those applications is at risk, the efforts should focus on the infrastructure first.
The steps involved will vary depending on the planning and procurement systems your organisation has in place, but it generally helps to know how much you need in your IT budget to make it happen.
The roadmap should also include methods to measure and track success so that you can record your progress. These measurements can take the form of cost-benefit analysis, return-on-investment reporting, or user satisfaction surveys.
During this step, it’s critical to pay attention to the risk management strategies in place across your environment. As you roll out new solutions and processes, they will help inform how you shape your risk management activities after the digital transformation.
Once you have mapped out your plan and drawn up the budget, it’s vital to ensure that your organisation is made aware of the coming changes – what they entail, what they’ll deliver – and any impacts the new ICT environment may have on key stakeholders.
The next step: iteration!
After you complete your IT strategy plan, it’s essential to make sure that the steps involved are repeatable – and that the business recognises the iterative nature of the process. Regular reviews can help identify gaps in infrastructure and workflows that slow down productivity or let you take advantage of new operational elements as they become available.
Another critical factor is ensuring that you have the resources required to bring about your ideal future state. Tech investments can be prohibitively costly, and some organisations may not have space for additional full-time IT staff in their operational budgets.
IF you find this to be the case with your organisation, First Focus can help! As Australia’s #1 MSP for SMEs, we have a range of solutions on hand to help out – including dedicated helpdesks, professional planning and procurement, and managed cybersecurity.
Discover IT strategy made easy
Find out how our expert IT strategists can help you take the pain out of regular IT strategy planning.