Given the dynamic nature of technology and business strategy, a long range IT strategic plan is a sure sign the CIO might be an idiot. Idiocy is a strong word but it is needed to help stop CIO’s from producing a strategic plan that company executives know is fiction. A long range IT strategic plan only undermines CIO credibility by bringing into question their general business sense thereby further limiting the CIO’s ability to play a strategic role in the company.
IT Strategic Plan by Carnac
Ask any IT leader where they want to be in three years and most can’t tell you what will happen next week let alone in three years. Yet, when forced into strategic planning they somehow develop mystical powers to see into to the future with clarity and certainty on business strategy and technology advancement. Perhaps that might explain why about every two weeks or so I see a college CIO publish a 5-year IT strategy.
If you ever watched Johnny doing Carnac the Magnificent you’d know his insights were always a little askew. So too are the projections on IT trends many CIO’s rely on in developing their strategic plan. That’s why it is useful to look back at some of the IT trends predicted in 2008 if you are a 3-year planner, or 2006 if you use 5-year plans.
The CIO Insight’s 2008 Trends includes predictions of strong foreign economies and no downturn in the role of the CIO. Then compare those trends to their Top CIO Priorities for 2009 and you’ll get the point. Those readers in Higher Ed can do the same using EDUCAUSE or almost any other source.
Business Strategy is Near Term
The typical approach in creating an IT strategic plan is based on the IT strategy being born out of the business strategy. If you accept the strategic planning model I’ve offered, then the IT strategic plan is driven directly by the business strategy. But because the certainty of any business strategy fades the farther out the projection goes, so too would the company strategic plan.
Most companies can’t see much more than 2 years ahead with any certainty which would limit the ability to formulate an IT strategy that is any longer than that without a significant decline in confidence. Perhaps you might have an IT strategy where year 1 is 90% certain and year 2 is 70% certain. But by year 3 and beyond your confidence level has to decline considerably to 50/50 or worse.
CIO’s also have to account for the timing of the strategic planning cycle and where the IT strategy fits into the timeline. If it takes a company or college 6 months to complete their strategic planning and the IT strategy get’s done early in the timeline, a 3 year strategic plan is really more like a 4 year projection when you look at when it is formulated to when it is funded and can begin. So those CIO’s creating 5 year strategic plans are really offering a 6 year forecast.
An IT strategic plan covering more than 5 years is just not realistic and should be seen as a warning sign of the CIO’s capability. If your strategic plan offers any details for year 3 or beyond of any significance you may have wasted your energy and lowered your credibility.