CIOs Guide to Strategic IT Planning
Strategic planning is the cornerstone of any CIO’s tenure in the C-suite. An organizational management activity focused on business goals and designed to prioritize goals, allocate resources to the most critical objectives, and enable departments and the company as a whole to work towards a shared set of goals, strategic planning is the foundation of successful operations across departments, companies, and even entire industries.
A strategic IT plan enables CIOs to achieve and maintain the delicate balance between optimal functionality and data security, while distributing often-limited resources in the most appropriate manner to support the larger objectives of the organization and the needs of other departments. In today’s fast-paced digital world, it often includes leading and managing the digital transformation.
There are, however, many models and frameworks that CIOs rely on for strategic planning; thus, there is no one-size fits all solution. That said, there are several key components that most strategic IT plans share, as well as multiple crucial steps in the process. In this guide, we’ll discuss the importance of strategic IT planning for the modern CIO, options for frameworks and roadmap models to build upon, break down the key technologies CIOs should be evaluating as part of the strategic planning process and mapping to relevant business objectives, and discuss best practices for infrastructure migration.
Table of Contents:
- Why Strategic Planning for CIOs?
- Strategic IT Planning Frameworks
- Key Technologies to Support Business Objectives
- Infrastructure Migration: Best Practices
Gartner cites a Nexus of Forces, which refers to the convergence of social, mobile, cloud and information as the platform for digital business. “It is imperative for CIOs to define a clear vision and roadmap for the future of their business using these technologies,” according to Kiran Sohi, who discusses the importance of strategic planning for CIOs in an article at LinkedIn.
“CIOs should not only deliver a Technology Roadmap but also a Strategic Plan that clearly outlines how the organization will build and conduct business for the next 5 years in the context of these technologies,” says Sohi.
Sohi points out that today, given the Nexus of Forces, companies are no longer in competition only with their immediate competitors, but also with potential industry disruptors who may leverage these forces to deliver products or services at a similar or better quality at a lower cost. She notes that the cloud is functioning as an equalizer, placing smaller businesses on the same playing field with major enterprises thanks to the increase in cloud technology vendors and lower costs across the board compared to just a few short years ago.
Image via SuccessfulWorkplace.org
No longer do small businesses need to invest in on- or off-site data centers; instead, they can leverage the same technology that the major industry players have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on in years past. As such, CIOs are faced with increasing pressure to readily adapt and adopt new technologies that enable their companies to stay ahead of the curve and compete in a broadened landscape where being a major player is no longer necessarily a distinct competitive advantage – at least not in terms of technology investments or the desire to innovate.
But what, specifically, do companies stand to gain by leading the transformation and leveraging the Nexus of Forces? According to the Cloud Standards Customer Council, quite a lot: customer engagement, the forging of new partnerships, and the driving of competitive advantage, to name a few. None of these advantages are within reach, however, without a clear roadmap to adoption and a strategic plan for both implementing and leveraging these technologies to benefit business operations.
Strategic IT Planning Frameworks
Strategic IT planning is crucial for modern CIOs, yet there is no one-size-fits-all planning framework. There are, however, a multitude of templates that you can use, customize, and build on to create a framework that’s unique to your organization and precisely targets your areas of focus.
CIO Index, for instance, offers a comprehensive template for strategic IT planning:
Your roadmap may be more detailed or far more simplistic, although the more thorough your analysis and descriptive your strategic plan, the easier it will be for you to sell your plan to key stakeholders and gain buy-in for your objectives. However, you can still achieve the same result with a simpler strategic planning framework that covers the who, what, when, where, and why of both business and IT goals.
For small and medium-sized enterprises that don’t require the depth and breadth for strategic planning built into the CIO Index framework, Info Tech Research Group offers a suitable template that you can customize to meet unique requirements:
If you’re seeking to fast-track a strategic IT plan and minimizing the report itself, CEB CIO Leadership Council provides a “Strategy on a Page” template that’s worth a look:
Screenshot via CEB CIO Leadership Council
Additionally, you’ll find industry-specific strategic planning templates such as this template for construction companies from Construction Executive or this template from UNC Charlotte geared towards university IT planning. Assisted living and other long-term care providers may find Leading Age’s seven-step process a useful planning framework. Another option is to build your own framework based on another organization’s existing strategic plan, such as this one from Angelo State University. (In other words, treat the plan like a template and customize it with your own goals and information.)
The primary objectives for strategic IT plans are generally to:
- Analyze the current state
- Identify business objectives and IT objectives
- Map IT objectives to business objectives
- Identify the IT systems required to support business objectives
- Create a roadmap for implementing new solutions and migrating infrastructure
- Develop a plan for measuring success
Provided that you’re addressing these objectives in the course of strategic planning, any framework will do. It’s worth evaluating several templates, including industry-focused templates if available, and developing a custom framework that’s unique to your organization and provides a clear, consistent process for IT planning moving forward that meets both business requirements and the critical elements of IT planning overall.
Key Technologies to Support Business Objectives
The primary questions weighing on most CIOs’ minds during the process of strategic IT planning are:
- What technologies will fill the gaps to support business objectives?
- Are those technologies within the current budget?
- Will those technologies drive value for customers (both internal – employees – and external)?
- What new technology solutions are required to meet business goals?
- What’s the best way to handle infrastructure migration?
Image via What’s the Big Data?
Identifying the technologies that support business objectives can be a monumental task if you’re not honed in on the latest solutions that fill existing gaps. Additionally, you’re likely seeking data-driven tools that enable you to gather critical business data to evaluate the effectiveness of IT initiatives and how they impact mapped-to business objectives. The landscape for both is vast and growing, but honing in on solutions categories narrows the playing field.
In this section, we’ll take a look at the primary IT solutions that are filling gaps for modern enterprises, supporting business goals, and producing ROI, as well as the solutions you should look to in order to facilitate KPI monitoring and outcomes measurement against specified objectives.
Knowledge management and enterprise search are not necessarily new concepts, but they are critically important for enterprises of all sizes in the modern landscape. That’s because businesses are drowning in ever-growing amounts of data and content, making it increasingly challenging to locate the right content or the right information to support business functions. Consider that:
- Knowledge workers today spend between 5 and 15% of their time reading information, yet they spend up to 50% of their time searching for it.
- More than one-third (36%) of employees’ work days are comprised of searching for and aggregating information, according to data from IDC.
- IDC further estimates that up to 44% of the time, employees are unable to locate the essential information required to perform their jobs.
These alarming statistics point to the sheer volume of waste modern companies are experiencing. Following the breadcrumbs reveals that inefficient knowledge management processes coupled with low-quality enterprise search functionality leads to vast inefficiencies. In fact, enterprises waste millions of dollars annually ($2.5 million to $3.5 million) on the resulting complications of these shortcomings, including:
- Time spent searching for information that does not exist
- Failing to locate information that does exist
- Recreating information that is not discovered
The solution to these challenges is knowledge management and more-effective enterprise search processes. In fact, knowledge management and enterprise search features can be mapped to myriad business objectives, simplifying the IT strategy component of your planning process by solving multiple challenges with a single implementation. For instance, a knowledge management and enterprise search solution worth considering should be able to:
- Fully integrate with existing repositories and systems to streamline implementation and ease of use
- Index, categorize, and analyze existing content assets automatically, reducing deployment time and the cost of ownership
- Require no manual tagging or uploading, making all existing content available for use while reducing deployment time and costs
- Analyze content relevance based on usage statistics and freshness, empowering employees to find the best content for any circumstance in less time to reduce time spent searching and aggregating content
- Easily scale to accommodate growing organizations (and growing volumes of content), eliminating the need to migrate to new systems as you grow
- Require little to no ongoing maintenance or administration, minimizing ongoing costs
- Integrate with other solutions such as Salesforce.com, company intranets, or similar solutions that support specific business functions, increasing adoption by maintaining existing workflows and processes
When it comes to enterprise search for the modern enterprise, companies require tools and solutions that are driven by relevance, offer usage metrics to measure ROI of various content assets (thereby meeting another business requirement), and offer content recommendations more effective than those achievable through human-led recommendation models.
Customer engagement is a primary pain point for enterprises today, and one that offers a distinct competitive advantage when solved. It’s a category that encompasses a variety of technology tools and solutions from email marketing platforms to social media management tools, CRM software, loyalty programs, marketing automation, and more. Consumers are heavily driven by engagement in the modern landscape, particularly Millennials. In fact, 62% of Millennials say that brand engagement makes them a loyal customer. Other statistics worth noting include:
- 85% of Millennials are more likely to make a purchase if offers are personalized to their interests.
- Just 25% of Millennials are fully engaged customers.
- Appreciation is important to the modern consumer across all age groups. 60% say they feel appreciation should be conveyed directly to the individual recipient, and 44% say it should be personalized.
- The customer experience is increasingly crucial to maintaining customer loyalty, with 47% of consumers reporting that they’d take their business to a competitor within a day of having a poor customer service experience with a company or brand.
- Yet, 80% of consumers who have switched feel that the company could have done something to retain them.
While the need for customer engagement is clear, the landscape of technology tools in this category is vast and complex, easily leading to what you might call ‘analysis paralysis.’ Implementing the right technology mix to best support customer engagement needs must be a deliberate process with decisions made with input from key stakeholders and collaboration between marketing and IT. It’s crucial that marketing automation and customer engagement solutions integrate seamlessly due to the need for companies to maintain consistent brand messaging and experiences across a multitude of channels.
A core enterprise function is the development of proprietary technology systems to support business activities or the implementation and customization of third-party solutions. In-house development isn’t as prominent across all industries or even across companies thanks to the proliferation of customizable tools and platforms that reduce the need for developing custom solutions from the ground-up, but development processes must still be managed. Of course, this is a much more prominent need for companies in the business of developing products for third-party use.
In either case, product development is increasingly agile as the need to rapidly deploy products and updates continues to grow. The fast pace of modern product development demands stronger technology solutions to support the need for multiple teams, developers, product managers, and the like to work simultaneously on projects. Thus, tools such as continuous delivery solutions are becoming a mainstay among organizations with ongoing development needs.
The larger the company, the more assets are required to support the delivery of products and services. Without enterprise resource planning and asset management solutions, it’s easy to overspend and duplicate solutions across teams or departments.
But it’s not just major enterprises that benefit from ERP or asset management; increasingly, mid-sized companies are realizing the benefit of getting a firm grasp on the company’s asset landscape. The earlier in a company’s lifecycle such solutions are implemented, the easier it is to scale without a major systems overhaul as the company grows. Consider that:
- Almost 50% of investments made by mid-market companies are made in effort to reduce costs.
- Operational costs may be reduced by as much as 23% and administrative costs by 22% thanks to accurate, real-time information that drives smarter decision-making.
- When it comes to the most costly assets, asset management is the key to extending the usable lifespan of those assets, essentially giving companies more leverage from every investment when those investments are well-managed and maintained.
- Mid-sized companies that use modern ERP systems are able to increase on-time deliveries by 24%.
- 28% of tech spending among mid-market companies is aimed at managing and cultivating business growth. Those same mid-market companies that invest in modern ERP systems are able to more effectively support change and subsequently grow operating margins by as much as 21%.
When it comes to choosing ERP or asset management solutions, it’s important to consider the full asset landscape and account for projected growth. Choose ERP/asset management technology capable of scaling to meet your business requirements as your company grows and even possibly expands, as well as solutions that integrate effectively with other technology such as data analytics, accounting tech, and other tools.
Data Analytics Tools
The Big Data explosion might be old news these days, but that doesn’t mean growth has halted. Data is rapidly becoming the cornerstone of business decision-making across companies of all sizes spanning virtually every vertical. And with multiple data sources, investing in tools that effectively aggregate and de-silo data is crucial for the big picture most modern companies demand. Despite the widespread awareness of the value data offers in decision-making and general business operations, the majority of companies are failing at Big Data, according to a 2015 PwC study conducted in collaboration with Iron Mountain.
Contributing to this widespread fail is the weaknesses that exist among some of the most readily available data technology tools. It’s one thing to invest in solutions that aggregate data and even eliminate data silos, but raw data offers little value without the application of data science. According to the PwC report, “Close scrutiny of interviews conducted with 1,800 senior business leaders shows that very few are able to mine information to its full potential, and fewer still can make the most of the benefits that accumulate as a result.” It’s the ability to turn raw data into actionable insights that truly drives business growth, yet 76% of the companies surveyed “extract little to no advantage whatsoever” from their data.
When you think of data analytics, you might think of spreadsheets. But today, there are sophisticated interpretation, analysis, and visualization tools that help translate raw data from multiple sources into clear, actionable insights that any member of your team can glean and put to use. Data analytics tools serve the need to measure progress against KPIs, derive competitive intelligence, and derive actionable insights from customer data that drives better customer engagement, product and market decisions, and a variety of other analysis requirements.
The value of any data analytics tool is heavily reliant on how targeted the tool is to your purpose, and with most technology solutions in every tech category offering some form of data collection and reporting, investing in tools that can combine and analyze information from many different sources is imperative.
Collaboration is the name of the game today, but with enterprises and teams dispersed throughout the world, collaboration is powered by technology. Despite the many collaboration tools at their fingertips, collaboration remains a category in which many companies are falling short. Consider that:
- 39% of employees in one survey report that they feel people within their organizations don’t collaborate enough.
- 75% of companies say that teamwork and collaboration is “very important,” yet just 18% of employees receive communication evaluations during routine performance reviews.
- Nearly half (49%) of Millennials are in support of the use of social tools for workplace collaboration.
- Nearly all (97%) of both employees and executives are aware of the importance of team alignment in achieving business goals and how team alignment impacts project and task outcomes.
- The majority (96%) of employees cite poor or ineffective communication as a cause of workplace failures.
The need for technology that puts every player on the same page is clear and growing every day. Coupled with knowledge management and other technology, collaboration tools – when well-implemented – can have a dramatic impact on business productivity and results, not to mention employee morale, retention, and overall performance.
Financial solutions enable companies to better manage investments, streamline reporting, and make accounting processes more efficient. From payroll to tax reporting, asset depreciation, budgeting and forecasting, and more, financial technology permeates the entire enterprise.
Sound financial management has always been a cornerstone of business success, but just because it’s a category that’s been around for eons doesn’t mean the technology investments are simple and straightforward. The right investment decision hinges on factors such as whether the company manages budgets on a departmental level, the need for financial projections, whether payroll and general accounting will be handled within the same system as financial planning, and so forth.
Financial technology also encompasses tools that facilitate transaction processing, enabling companies to accept multiple forms of payments and tools that measure the ROI of individual campaigns, channels, customer or geographic segments, and other granular analyses. Because every technology investment is budget-dependent, implementing financial forecasting and management tools is an essential underpinning for strategic IT planning as a whole.
Security solutions are a core component of strategic IT planning and, much like financial forecasting solutions, should be considered a foundational element upon which other IT decisions are made. The sheer number of technology systems employed by most organizations today has made security a moving target, thus it’s critical to invest in solutions that can scale, handle the ever-shifting security perimeter, and offer comprehensive data security to protect the vast volume of data that all these other systems are generating, collecting, and analyzing to drive business processes and decision-making.
It takes only a single vulnerability to expose valuable data across the entire enterprise, as modern cybercrime is increasingly sophisticated and often relies on achieving the first critical point of access. Once your systems have been breached, your data is vulnerable across the spectrum. Sophisticated security solutions, ongoing employee security awareness training, stringent security policies, and a careful integration of third-party tools and solutions are the keys to maintaining a strong security posture in the modern enterprise.
Infrastructure Migration: Best Practices
Embracing the Nexus of Forces means adopting new technology and tools, meaning that part of your strategic plan will include infrastructure migration. The complexity of your infrastructure migration needs is in direct correlation to the combination of technology solutions that you invest in. In other words, selecting the right tools and solutions to meet your technology needs minimizes migration demands. Cloud technology streamlines accessibility and minimize data center demands, and cloud migration is the right choice for an increasing number of companies today. If infrastructure migration is part of your strategic IT roadmap, the following best practices will ensure a smooth migration.
Determine Infrastructure Migration Readiness
“As operating systems and applications evolve and provide new functions and features that address specific computing and user needs, it becomes more favorable to migrate from older or proprietary systems. Migration also results in improved interoperability, reliability and manageability,” according to Dell Professional Services’ Infrastructure Migration Readiness Assessment. “Conducting an enterprise-wide migration, however, often results in many months of manual work and numerous disruptions to the flow-of-business.”
Of course, avoiding disruptions to the flow of business is one of the primary motivators for strategic IT planning in the first place. That’s why some experts suggest migrating in stages to avoid halting business operations across the board, although some may argue that an all-or-nothing approach makes more sense (like ripping off the band-aid, if you will). Ultimately, this is a decision best made on an individual basis.
Choose the Right Technology
Choosing and managing robust technology tools isn’t an IT-exclusive function; in fact, in its 2015 report, “Seizing the Information Advantage,” PwC recommends implementing an information governance oversight team supported by leadership that includes all key functional areas rather than only IT. While the report is specific to information advantage and data analysis, the lessons learned are applicable to the selection of, investment in, and management of a range of technology solutions. PwC also suggests:
- Treating information as a valuable asset and developing and promoting a culture of evidence-based decision-making.
- Protecting valuable data and information with robust controls and safeguards while simultaneously ensuring accessibility.
- Enlist the help of data analysts who can manage the evaluation of technology investments and facilitate the use of data to drive IT decision-making.
Really, the cloud has become a driving force behind modern IT, shifting the old models from on-site data centers and the robust resources required to maintain them to a much more flexible and even more affordable cloud-based infrastructure. Still, the diversity of technology systems means that even when the cloud serves as the primary enterprise infrastructure, data and information can still remain isolated in silos.
Modern solutions more readily integrate with complimentary systems, and APIs make it possible to connect disparate systems that lack built-in integrations with other key technologies. Cloud technologies more readily integrate with one another, eliminating not only migration requirements but also ongoing maintenance and administration demands.
Roadmapping is one of the most valuable processes IT departments undertake during strategic IT planning. By using mapping, you’re able to visualize both short- and long-term investments, plan for the development of necessary capabilities, and then use these models as a framework for determining your infrastructure requirements.
The screenshots below from Vietnamese-German University’s International SEPT Program illustrate the various ways roadmaps can illustrate technology needs, capabilities, and serve as the underpinning for infrastructure migration planning.
In the screenshot above, it’s easy to visualize that certain technologies are needed before others, making it possible to migrate the infrastructure necessary for some technology before others. Note that there’s an overlap between technologies, meaning that if dependencies exist, the enterprise will want to configure infrastructure capable of supporting all dependent technologies.
The screenshots above are additional examples of roadmaps that can be utilized to visualize integrations, evolution, and capabilities and knowledge planning. Beyond their value for infrastructure migration planning, roadmapping is an important technique that can support the full strategic IT planning process.
Always Plan for Growth
In the immediate future, the goal of migration is often to replicate an application or solution as precisely as it exists currently. Focusing only on exact replication, however, can cause you to lose sight of the company’s future needs. It’s always a good idea to plan for growth, opting for infrastructure and applications with the flexibility needed to grow and expand with your company. Infrastructure migration can be a serious undertaking, so it’s not something that you’ll want to repeat frequently.
Always Test and Plan for Downtime
With the goal being to minimize downtime, you’ll still want to plan for more downtime than you originally foresee. Having this buffer can avoid many a catastrophe. With any migration, testing is critical before going live, and when bugs are detected, you’ll encounter inevitable delays as these issues are rectified. In short, planning for more downtime than you need allows you to test thoroughly and ensure that your migration is successful before pushing a migration live before you’re really ready, which will ultimately only create other hiccups that take time and resources to clean up. Avoid these hassles altogether by planning ahead and allowing sufficient time to tackle the unexpected.
Strategic IT planning is a comprehensive undertaking but an essential one for businesses of all sizes today. Technology has become a key driver of business processes, from analytics tools that drive decision-making to collaboration tools and knowledge management solutions that support innovation and give companies a competitive edge, there’s no escaping tech in the modern landscape. As such, IT is more crucial than ever for streamlining business operations. With strategic IT planning, your company will be effectively supported by the right technology solutions that integrate seamlessly with dependent tools, your team supported with the knowledge and expertise for forward-thinking growth, and your bottom line healthier than ever possible before.
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