An IT strategy deals with big IT and digital transformation questions. You likely need to formalize your IT strategy if your company is struggling to define questions like these:
- What is our IT vision?
- What digital opportunities should we pursue?
- What’s the best way to use our resources to create organizational value?
Today, let’s look at IT strategies and how to create one.
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What is an IT strategy?
An IT strategy is a component of IT capability. Comprised of the four components, shown in the table below, IT capability refers to your organization’s ability to use IT to:
- Meet organizational needs
- Improve business processes
- Provide maintenance and support for IT systems.
More importantly, it defines your organization’s ability to create value using IT business assets and technological know-how.
Formally, your IT strategy is a document that defines how your organization will increase its IT capability. This document defines your IT vision and creates a strategic roadmap for using IT to create organizational value (i.e., its strategy).
Your IT strategy answers this important question for your organization: What IT changes are demanded to align IT with our organizational goals, support our business strategy, and create value for the organization?
IT strategy drives IT capability to create organizational value. But what does an IT strategy consist of and how should you create one?
Writing an IT strategy
Even though it deals with technical issues, an IT strategy is a business document, not a technical document. Your strategy should be created in conjunction with, and approved by, organizational management. The strategy must document how your company uses Information Technology to advance business goals.
There are many ways to write an IT Strategy. The figure below is a mock table of contents (TOC) I created for writing an IT strategy document. Use this TOC as a starting template for creating your own IT strategy document. Feel free to add or change sections as needed.
Here’s how each section in my mock TOC defines how an IT strategy drives your organization’s IT capabilities and future directions.
Section 1: How IT aligns with organizational goals
An IT strategy must always align with your organizational strategy. In this step of your IT strategy document, list all your business goals for the next five years. Then, explain how your IT strategy will help meet those goals.
If you’re writing an IT strategy for a video streaming provider, for example, you’d explain how your IT strategy enables their streaming, content production, and membership goals. If you’re creating a strategy for a car company, you’d explain how IT will help them increase production efficiency, enable self-driving vehicles, or sell more cars.
Use this section to tie in how your IT capability will increase organizational value, using your organization’s existing goals.
Section 2: Coverage period
This section defines how long your IT strategy will be in effect. Write your IT strategy for a period no shorter than five years, and rewrite your strategy every year. This allows you to create a long-term plan with a process for making annual course corrections.
Best practices for your coverage period include:
- Avoid IT strategies that cover only one year. It’s difficult to create meaningful value and IT transformation in less than a year. Companies implementing one-year strategies usually find themselves employing tactics, rather than strategy, as they attempt to meet short-term deadlines.
- Don’t let your IT strategy get dusty. An IT strategy is a process, not a one-time event. Allow resources and budget for strategy rewrites and updates each year.
Section 3: Relevant assumptions, limitations, and requirements
Use this section to explain what considerations went into your strategy. Is a merger on the horizon? Are you covered under regulations such as SOX or PCI DSS? Are some product lines coming online or going away in the next few years? Do you expect significant marketplace disruption? Include any considerations that affected or shaped your IT strategy.
Section 4: Your IT vision statement
Tell the reader what your organizational vision is for expanding IT capability and creating value. Given what you’ve previously outlined, what needs to change in IT to meet those goals?
Remember that your IT strategy is strategic, not tactical. It should describe and deal with the whats and whens of your capabilities, rather than with the hows of getting things done.
In our streaming video service example, you might have a vision for providing an IT infrastructure capable of handling 60 million subscribers in five years, downloading 100 million pieces of content each day, and posting ten new pieces of content a year. By contrast, our car company might have a vision of providing information to 500,000 self-driving cars a week.
In this section, commit to what you see IT doing for the organization, rather than how it’s going to get done.
Section 5: Critical project and initiative description and prioritization
This section lists out the projects that have been considered and the priority implementation of each project. Recommended projects should bring your IT vision to life and align IT with your organizational goals. These are the big deliverables. Put in the high-level justification for each project to be implemented.
Be sure to account for changing priorities due to discovered projects. How will the strategy react when new projects are mandated from the top or become necessary when working on project items? Going back to our streaming example, what happens if a new technology is immediately needed for streaming that you don’t currently offer?
Remember, an IT strategy is a process. Plan for change while your working your project plans.
Section 6: Timelines for significant projects
In this section, discuss the timelines for project delivery. As this IT strategy is a five-year plan, your timelines should be more specific during the first years. Explain when the reader can expect to see results.
Section 7: Necessary resources
Detail what employees, partners, skills, and structures will be needed to implement your vision and strategy. Tell them who is going to do the work and what human resources you anticipate needing.
Section 8: Significant processes, technologies, and infrastructures needed
This section should answer: What infrastructure will be needed to complete this strategy and when will it come on line?
If your company is on an acquisition tear, for example, how many new servers, telecommunication lines, network infrastructure, devices, email seats, etc., will be needed for each new IT client? Are you moving infrastructure to the cloud? List out what infrastructure, technologies, and processes you will need to support strategy items, along with when and how you’ll expect to deploy each item.
Section 9: The business of IT: how will IT be managed?
Detail the plan for managing this strategy. What personnel, management, departments, and human resources will be needed for managing your IT capabilities?
Describe your IT structure during this plan’s implementation:
- What’s the IT structure?
- How is each piece managed?
- Are staff and departments fine as-is? Should additional staff be added, repurposed, or inherited?
- Consider internal, external, cloud, and vendor management
- Will AI technologies automate different aspects of your strategy?
Any large-scale IT initiative is a separate business unto itself. Describe how that business will be managed.
Section 10: Projected budgets and costs for strategic initiatives
Address projected budgets and costs for digital and IT transformations over the next five years. Budget and costs should be detailed in years 1-2 and estimated for years 3-5. This will help the reader understand what the actual costs are for implementing your strategy.
Signing off: the final step
The last step in creating an IT strategy is getting management sign-off. Sign-off should be easier if management has been involved with strategy creation throughout the process. Once you’ve created a relevant IT strategy, you can use it to guide your ongoing IT management throughout its effective period.
These postings are my own and do not necessarily represent BMC's position, strategies, or opinion.
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