IT strategic planning is a one of the principal duties of a CIO, yet paradoxically it is the one activity that creates the most trouble for them. The real shame of it is creating an IT strategic plan can be a very straightforward and simple thing to do. Simple in that it is not a complex activity. Since I prefer to keep things both simple and easy what follows is a very straightforward, linear, strategic planning process.
This approach to IT strategic planning mimics other linear planning models common in IT strategic planning. The linear characteristic of this model should be recognized as being consistent with IT Governance frameworks of ISO/IEC, ITIL/ITSM, and COBIT (ITGI) making it even more useful.
To begin with, allow me to affirm my belief that IT strategic planning must be developed out of and be in alignment with the institution’s planning model. Allow me to also assert experienced planners know the IT strategic planning process begins only after the institutional planning starts to take shape or once departmental plans emerge. This is in part why some industry analysts describe IT strategic planning not in terms of alignment choosing instead to use concurrency.
Purpose of IT Strategic Planning
Many CIO’s will argue the necessity of IT strategic planning is not always clear. Their argument arises from the notion the IT plan should be fully incorporated into the institution’s plan believing a separate plan increases the chances of not being focused on institutional priorities. The predominant view is the IT plan is essential because it serves as both a codification of the IT go-forward strategy and a communication tool for consumers of the plan. The plan accomplishes this by reciting the current institutional issues and priorities which have IT dependencies, the intended response to those matters and the supporting rationale. In other words, the plan solidifies the current thinking for IT governance.
When thought of in this way the plan is seen as an actionable blueprint from the CIO on what IT is going to do and why, so the organization can endorse the plan. This is both an affirmative endorsement and the acknowledgement nothing has been overlooked. To break it down into a more elemental explanation – in the event the CIO gets hit by a beer wagon (I do live in Wisconsin), or runs off to join the circus (also a Wisconsin thing), the institution will have the blueprints it needs to complete the plan.
Finally, many compliance regulations and external auditors require or at least expect to see a plan when taking a top-down approach to compliance and IT controls. The existence of an approved IT strategic plan reduces the risk of IT misalignment and the risk of bad IT investments or insufficient investment in IT.
IT Strategic Planning Process
One thing I have learned is simple models supported with simple visuals makes it much easier to communicate ideas and create consistency between other related ideas. Readers of this blog will recall this diagram from the CIO 90-Day Plan.
I use this visual over and over again to help me stay focused, to convey the simple basis for IT governance while communicating with the IT department and our customers how we go about continuous improvement. This model is based on the ‘Four Ares’ as described by John Thorp in his book The Information Paradox, written jointly with Fujitsu, first published in 1998 and revised in 2003 which is just as relevant today as when it was first conceived. The visual is also a useful tool for developing a plan driven by continuously assessing alignment, approach and results.
On any area of the diagram where you get stuck take that as an action to develop that capability. For instance, if you can’t really answer if you are doing the right things then record an action item to develop a mechanism to identify the right things but call them priorities or something similar.
If you are willing to go a bit further the ideas from the continuous improvement visual can then support a simple representation of a typical IT strategic planning process. The visual demonstrates the relationships between the questions to be addressed in the planning process and the outputs that correspond to the answers. It is also intended to anchor the use of key performance indicators in a balanced scorecard early in the planning process.
For CIO’s struggling with developing a plan should find these visuals to be very useful in simplifying the intent and the actual task of creating the plan. In fact you can often create a solid plan in a day or less if you focus on these visuals and use bullets instead of paragraphs since it is only when you try to construct a more sophisticated document that paralysis sets in.
So maybe you create a simple chart by merging the two ideas together so that you apply each portion of the continuous improvement diagram across the planning questions. So for Are We Doing the Right Things consider you current state, you desired future state, how you plan to get there and the measures you will use to know when you have arrived.
Just stay focused on substance. Bullets first, and paragraphs when time permits. I also advice CIO’s to avoid the drain of creating an IT mission and vision statement. Your mission is that of your institution and your vision ought to be supporting its mission.