Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
Commentary
11/26/2012
04:22 PM
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4 Key Elements: Strategic IT Plans

Hope is not a strategy. Thousands of IT projects launch every day -- and more than one-third crash before they get off the ground.

Regardless of what our minds conjure when we think of air travel, one thing that we can readily observe is that although the weather, the mechanical condition of the aircraft, the experience of the flight crew, and the destination of the flight are all variables, the actual system of getting an aircraft from one place to another -- in one piece -- is extraordinarily reliable.

Every commercial flight starts with a flight plan, a flight crew, an aircraft and a destination. The dispatcher develops a plan based on an expected set of variables, and each activity is performed to achieve one purpose: Getting the aircraft and its passengers safely to the destination.

Consider how strange it seems, then, that thousands of IT projects begin every single day, but more than one third crash before they get off the ground. What's more, a recent Forrester survey found that although 50% of firms say that investing in systems to improve engagement with customers and partners is a high or critical priority, the majority see workforce computing technology as a cost and risk center, instead of an enormous opportunity for competitive advantage. Why? Because there is seldom a clear destination in mind, a rational plan to get there, and a viable system in place to execute the plan. Most of the time, the destination and the means to get there are only vague estimates, and the elements of strategy are rooted in hope.

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In the midst of reactive daily fighting to keep your head above water in IT, it's nearly impossible to find the time to think about the future or reflect on the capabilities of the organization relative to its goals and expectations. This is precisely why developing a strategic plan is important. W. Edwards Deming, widely credited as the father of the Japanese quality movement, puts it this way: "If you can't describe what you're doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing."

In Forrester's Workforce Computing Playbook, my colleagues and I maintain that a workforce computing strategic plan should include the following elements:

1. Mission Statement.

The goal of the mission statement is to state in plain language how the workforce computing strategy relates to business objectives. If the aim of your organization is to become the largest provider of farm equipment in the world, then every initiative must be evaluated and prioritized based on how it will help employees achieve the business strategy and reach the destination.

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2. SWOT Analysis.

The SWOT -- strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats -- analysis is the place to get specific about the health of your company's key business priorities and IT strategy as they relate to your culture, capabilities, and infrastructure. For threats, try to think of a handful of the most likely things that could invalidate either your strategy or execution plans, such as natural disasters in the region or disruptive announcements from a competitor.

A Sample SWOT Analysis

3. List Of Prioritized Actions.

These must be thoughtfully linked to both the mission statement and SWOT analysis. Consider the projects and tasks that infrastructure and operations professionals must perform to: 1) bring workforce computing to the required level to remedy current weaknesses, and 2) acquire new processes, skills, and tools to remedy tomorrow's challenges.

4. 12-, 24-, And 36-Month Road Maps.

A strategic plan is a living organism. Gone are the days when a plan would be cast in bronze for the next five years. Firms must develop a road map for action, as well as be prepared to anticipate and respond to emerging obstacles and challenges. Clear, consistent and repetitive communication is essential for maintaining momentum.

Finally, remember that hope is not a strategy. The more your organization knows about the conditions outside, the more that people are encouraged to learn and participate. The better understanding they have of business goals and how their work contributes, the more accurate the strategic planning, the more reliable the execution, and the more rewarding it will be for the people involved.

Competitive advantage doesn't come from reactive cultures. It comes from awareness, deliberate action, and careful sculpting of organizational abilities to achieve what your competitors cannot. And most of all, it requires business leaders who understand systems thinking and who are capable of crafting organizational systems to achieve the aim of the business.

David Johnson is a senior analyst at Forrester Research serving infrastructure and operations professionals.

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