IT Strategy

The IT Strategy is the CIO’s vision for the organization. It illustrates in business terms how technology enables business direction. The IT Strategy sets the tone for all future communication, and can serve as a platform for developing an inspiring organization vision, if none exists.

What to Do

Define a communications plan for the IT Strategy. Know who the stakeholders in the communication are and the key messages to be delivered. Identify the channels that are most effective in communicating the strategy. Make IT strategizing a team sport. Engage peers and the IT organization in its development.

Components of an IT Strategy

The IT Strategy sets the vision and tone for IT delivery and provides the business context for employees to understand their roles and contribution to the organization’s strategy. The CIO can use the IT strategy document to help communicate what the organization needs to accomplish to achieve its vision and goals, and what that means for IT. The key components of an IT strategy include:

VISION. Provides an overall picture of IT’s strategic direction and goals as a single-page summary. The vision can be a process model of core capabilities to which the organization aspires to. OR it can convey an aspirational direction. Be specific, realistic, value-centric, memorable (read short!) Think ahead and link to an enterprise mission or direction.

EXECUTION SUMMARY. The essence of the IT strategy,  from developing and executing the strategy to achieving business value.

BUSINESS CONTEXT. Specifies how the strategic goals are reached in relation to the organization’s strategic goals, mission, vision, core values and external influences.

IT CONTRIBUTION TO BUSINESS. Connects IT activities directly with business successes, using a capabilities statement—for example, “reduce response time for problem reporting to 24 hours (from 7 days.)”

IT PRINCIPLES. Guides IT decision making and governance, reflecting IT’s contribution using a high-level set of five to ten principles. For example, “We are mobile first, cloud first for all new applications.”

IT FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT. Explains whether IT is a cost center, profit center, or investment center, and if chargeback is being used to recover IT costs and how funds are allocated to projects. Provides a status of IT investment for the organization.

IT ARCHITECTURE. A high-0level overview of the IT architecture and how it will be used to align business and IT, guide investments, and change behaviors.

IT SERVICES AND PROCESSES. Provides an explanation of how IT service is made efficient, effective, reliable and repeatable. Features a summary of the approach to service delivery and processes, including the use of standards such as ITIL and a note about any nonstandard choices.

IT APPLICATION PORTFOLIO. High-level description of the set of applications available and planned for the future.

IT INFRASTRUCTURE.  Summarizes current IT infrastructure assets and operations and how they will change in the future to better support business goals and delivery of IT services.

IT STRUCTURE, STAFFING AND SOURCING.  Summarizes resource needs associated with the IT strategy and how resource needs will be met.

IT RISK MANAGEMENT. High-level summary of potentially major issues and risks associated with the strategy and approaches for mitigating them, including any standards and tools.

Communications Plan for the IT Strategy

Consider the following components of a communications plan:

PURPOSE. A strategy inspires behavior, actions and commitments that are aligned with common goals and objectives. A great IT strategy addresses the appropriate business issues and is much more than just a binder that sits on the shelf – it is something that is used regularly, and, hence is “evergreen.” On its own, an IT strategy does not achieve the desired results. Rather, the extent to which the organization lives and breathes the strategy is what actually delivers business results.

COMMUNICATOR. The primary owner of the IT strategy is the CIO, who must set the example for the IT organization on how to live and breathe the strategy. But an IT organization that can clearly articulate its strategy and how it contributes to the business strategy, and that understands how its strategy translates into outcomes on an operational level, will outperform organizations that are confused about their direction.

Messages are best delivered peer to peer, executive to executive, manager to manager across the organization. This practice builds relationships at all levels and builds critical leadership skill within the organization.

STAKEHOLDER TARGETS. Ideally the entire enterprise should be able to articulate how IT contributes to their jobs; however, this type of communication tends to occur during delivery of a projects as end users internalize the changes the new application is making to their daily activities.

MESSAGE CONTENT. The vision, executive summary, risks and issues are the most important elements of the IT strategy to business partners. Executive leadership must understand the strategy. Lower levels in the organization benefit from understanding the aspects of the strategy that relate to their jobs.

DELIVERY METHOD. Multiple channels can be used to effectively deliver the message. Select channels that fit the message and audience. If the goal is to enable every person in the IT organization to articulate the strategy, implement an “elevator pitch,” using these steps:

  • Summarize the IT strategy in a one-page vision for the organization. A high-level model gives stakeholders a quick way to understand business capabilities that will be delivered by executing the IT strategy.
  • Develop a brief elevator pitch, a one-minute summary of the IT strategy.
  • Start all meetings with a summary of the strategy, where the organization is and where it plans to go.

Use this one-page vision as an introduction in all communications across the organization.

DELIVERY FREQUENCY. The IT strategy should be communicated whenever there is an update. Including the strategy as context in every communication about the business will help the organization internalize how the strategy is applied.

FEEDBACK. One-on-one meetings with executive stakeholders is the best way to understand how executives have internalized the message. Objections will surface and can be incorporated or addressed frankly.

Consider an online survey for the IT organization with a simple 1-5 rating from “not at all” and “completely.” Questions could include:

  • “I understand the strategy.”
  • “I understand how the strategy will help achieve business objectives.”
  • I clearly see the importance of my job relative to the strategy.”
  • I can articulate to others how my job helps achieve the strategy.”

MEASURES OF SUCCESS. Initially focus on how well people understand the vision. Over time gauge success based on how consistent people’s actions are with achieving the IT vision. Listen to conversations, are they framed by the strategy? Look for signs the strategy is being internalized.

Nuances of Communicating the IT Strategy

What if the organization doesn’t have a documented strategy?

This is an opportunity for the CIO to demonstrate leadership by engaging the enterprise in a serious conversation about business strategy and direction. While this will be an iterative conversation, it’s worth the investment. It will help IT build relationships, and it will help the enterprise clarify its goals and priorities.

The first step is deciding what to create. Consider a business model for the organization, which at the highest level reflects the services provided and the relationship with constituents. It includes vendors and suppliers and other third parties required to deliver services.

Talk to executive leadership, financial and operational, to understand how they are measured and what they focus on.

Perfection is not the goal. Most people are better editors than they are creators of something new from a blank sheet of paper. Take all the input in this spirit and feed the vision. Use every conversation to update or reinforce the vision.

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