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Most businesses are familiar with the idea of strategic planning as an organizational goal. At its core, strategic planning is a type of long-term vision that establishes business goals, sets priorities, and guarantees that everyone is on the same page to achieve those goals.
It’s a common (and crucial) part of organizational management for any company, and it has been for years—but over the past few decades, we’ve seen another type of strategic planning enter the corporate mainstream: IT strategic planning.
As the name suggests, IT strategic planning examines the tech-centric processes that guide a business’s operation, as well as detailing the ways that companies can improve on those processes. This is particularly important for long-term business planning in our era of digital transformation. Technology plays a bigger role in business strategy than ever before, across internal communication, big data analytics, marketing, and customer outreach. And given how substantial these tech investments often are, companies need to have some type of structure guiding their decisions.
What is Strategic Planning in IT?
IT strategic planning is a decision-making tool. It’s a guide that helps companies codify their IT strategies and line out the different ways strategic planning in IT can move their business forward. Think of them as blueprints for tech implementation, from assessment to application. The overall structure of the IT strategic plan will be aligned with your company’s broader organization goals, but it’ll also outline specific areas where IT can be applied to improve operations or drive competitive advantage.
Typically, IT strategic planning support services are built by key stakeholders in the company familiar with IT assets and documentation, such as CIOs and IT team leaders. Their input is crucial, as a good IT strategic plan will rank the company’s tech priorities and provide insight into which technology investments will be necessary to address these goals and objectives.
These solutions may be as simple or as complicated as the company demands, but generally, they’re limited to broader overviews of the technologies, platforms, or integrations that a company should strive for to meet its goals.
But as noted above, these plans exist in a modern era of digital transformation, and as such, they need to be adaptable enough to evolve alongside your organization’s changing goals and tech landscape. We’ll detail that more in a moment, but before we do, let’s take a step back and look into the contents of a typical IT strategic plan.
What’s Included in IT Strategic Planning?
A strategic plan is a document that takes a step-by-step approach to IT management. Typically, standard IT strategic plans outline the framework for assessing the current IT strategy & planning environment, often including the following details:
- Creating a high-level strategy that reviews existing assets and goals
- Documenting smaller, organizational steps that can be taken to enact the larger picture
- Application and assessment of planning-level action items
- Align resources by converting action items into financials
- Ongoing review of efforts and evaluation of success
They also typically include mission statements that provide a top-down view of IT strategy and planning, the existing processes and objectives defined in the company’s more general strategic plans, and how specific technologies factor in to implementation.
Of course, these issues are just one step to creating a project management plan. Your strategic planning efforts need to include assessments of each item’s strengths and weaknesses, usually done through a SWOT analysis.
These assessments help determine how various internal and external variables may affect IT strategic planning and control—and how the company in question can pre-empt possible issues before they arise. This is particularly important in IT implementation, as well-functioning IT environments rely on coordination and integration among all assets.
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Adaptability in Process
Part of IT strategic planning in the era of digital transformation means that your company’s IT plans, whatever they may be, need to be adaptable. This is a cornerstone concept for any strategic plan, as even those based on foundational best practices are merely frameworks that are subject to change based on cost projections, unexpected revenue, new marketing data, or new technology entering the market.
And even without substantial shifts in the landscape, it’s no secret that the competitive environment doesn’t remain stagnant for long. It’s to your business’s benefit to explore IT strategic planning services that account for unanticipated, emergent events (many of which may be predicted in the aforementioned SWOT analysis, though obviously, these assessments will take you only so far.)
For example, consider Harvard’s IT strategy planning, most recently updated in 2018. Its CIO Council Initiatives and University Priorities don’t list the need for specific technologies exactly, but rather, the underlying demand that will influence IT decision-makers down the line. And in many cases, these initiatives are deliberately framed to keep them open ended and flexible. In this example, the original operating plan was put together back in 2012, and clearly, the tech landscape looks a lot different today than it did back then.
Many effective strategic plans opt to take a mid-term scope for this reason, encompassing the upcoming 12-24 months rather than a longer-term plan of, say, 3-5 years. This type of adaptability is crucial for keeping IT planning strategy viable over the long-term while still being applicable over the coming months.
Establishing an IT Strategic Plan
Strategic planning for IT is all about identifying opportunities, the barriers to those opportunities, and how to address those barriers through a structured planning process. They outline the company’s key goals and offer insight into the guiding principles that will best help the company reach those goals. Of course, the process is rife with challenges, from getting trapped in cost-based thinking to failing to account for the natural volatility of IT planning and strategy, but it’s an essential process for tech implementation. Companies must take these issues into account as they develop their plans and work towards better understanding their IT stakeholders’ tech needs—both today, and in the future.