Achieving Outstanding IT Strategy

Developing your IT strategy should be based on a thoughtful, ongoing process. Too often, strategy is developed as a one time event (typically with consultants) or is a hurried episode following a corporate vision statement that has been handed down. A considered approach, where there is robust industry and technology trend analysis coupled with a two way dialogue on business strategy can yield much better results.  I have mapped out below a best practice strategy process that I have leveraged in previous organizations that will ensure a strong connection with the business strategy, leverage of technology trends and clear cascade into effective goals and plans. With such a  process in hand, the senior technology leader should be able to both drive a better IT strategy, and importantly, an improved business strategy.

The IT strategy process should start with two sets of research and analysis that interplay: a full review of the business strategy and a comprehensive survey of the key technology trends, opportunities and constraints. It is critical that the business strategy should drive the technology strategy but aspects of the business strategy can and should be driven by the technology. Utilize the technology trend analysis as well as the understanding of the key strengths and weaknesses of the current technology platform to as a feedback loop into the business strategy.

When working with the business, to help them hone their strategy, I recommend leveraging a corporate competency approach from The Discipline of Market Leaders by Michael Treacy and Fred Wisrsema. In essence, Treacy and Wisrsema state that companies that are market leaders do not try to be all things to all customers. Instead, market leaders recognize their competency either in product and innovation leadership, customer service and intimacy, or operational excellence. Good corporate examples of each would be 3M for product, Nordstrom for service, and FedEx for operational excellence. Thus your business strategy should not attempt to excel at all three areas but instead to leverage your area of strength and extend it further while maintaining acceptable performance elsewhere. This focus is particularly valuable when working to prioritize an overly broad and ambitious business strategy.

Below is a diagram that maps out this strategy process or cascade:

The process anticipates that the corporate strategy will drive multiple business unit strategies that IT will then support. It is appropriate to develop the business unit technology strategies that will operate in concert with both the business unit strategy and the corporate technology strategy. Once the strategies are established, it is then critical to define the technology roadmao for each business unit. The roadmap can be viewed as a snapshot of the critical technology capabilities and systems every 3 or 6 months for the next two years that provides a definitive plan of how the business unit’s technology will evolve and be delivered to meet the business requirements. These roadmaps should be tied into and should support an overall technology reference architecture for the corporation. This ensure that the technology roadmaps will work in concert with each other and enable critical corporate capabilities such as understanding the entire relationship with a customer across products and business units.

I recommend executing the full process on an annual basis, synchronous with the corporate planning cycle with quarterly updates to the roadmaps. It is also reasonable to update the the technology trends and business unit strategies on a six month basis with additional data and results.

What would you add to this strategic planning approach? Have you leveraged different approaches that worked well?

Best, Jim Ditmore

About Jim D

Jim has worked in the IT field for over 25 years and as a senior leader for over 15 years. He has successfully turned around a number of IT shops to become high performing teams and a competitive advantage for their companies.
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3 Responses to Achieving Outstanding IT Strategy

  1. Amit D says:

    Jim, Very well written article indeed! I agree, in today’s world, technology trends, market needs and consumer behavior are interdependent on each other. They must act as key inputs to design organization’s business and IT strategy. In addition, there should be focused emphasis to continuously gain foresight on how current trends will evolve into future trends and market demand. Good example is how mobile devices, social media and premises free computing have changed how consumers buy products or leverage services. In addition to these two elements, competitive intelligence is another critical element that should not get overlooked. On several occasions, this insight will provide critical data points that could be harnessed appropriately to further refine your business and IT strategy thus help gain competitive advantage. An organization that adapts a culture, philosophy and process which takes into consideration holistic view of all these governing factors are most likely develop a sound business and IT strategy. However, it is worth highlighting that success of any strategy, vision or plan is highly dependent on the ability of the leader who is chartered to execute it. I have seen many visionary innovative leaders develop great strategy but lacked execution leaders under them with true ability to execute the plan meticulously. I have also seen average leaders performing extremely well to any plan because they have strong execution leaders under them.

  2. Anish P says:

    Hi Jim, another classic entry. I remember when you use to draw these sort of process flows in detail and in fact it was just yesterday I was speaking about this with a colleague.

    I agree with everything you have said and the only additional thing I have found which is the key to ensuring the business technology roadmap is successfully adopted is having a governance group formed of all business units who sponsor your reference architectures early in its development.

    Best Regards

    • Jim D says:

      Anish, Thanks for the kind words. I also recall more than a few folks would cringe when I picked up a marker (still happens today too). And thanks for the addition on the governance, catching things early and ensuring the requirements and design are high quality will prevent many issues downstream where they are much more expensive to resolve. Best, Jim

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