itmWEB TechWeekly

July 21, 1997

Information Technology Strategic Planning

This feature highlights the important considerations of IT and business goal alignment.

Alignment of business and MIS goals has become a key consideration for most businesses. This is especially true with technology infrastructure increasingly being viewed as a strategic asset by most companies. Consequently, information systems department leaders are frequently called upon to provide a strategic vision for the enterprise which compliments the company's stated businessobjectives. Understanding and applying the strategic planning process has become a vital skill for today's technology leader. This week's column will take a detailed look at this important process.

Important Academic Foundations

Strategic business planning has received considerable thought and study over the years. It is probably helpful to read some of the recent, contemporary materials which cover these ideas. Rather than going out and finding the books, why not read some of the excellent summaries which are already available on the web? Here is a link list of a few of the better papers which are clearly worth printing out as a reference:

Template for Information Management Strategic Planning
This highly useful document created by the State of Maryland provides an explanation of the methods and techniques of strategic planning process.

The Path of Development of Strategic Information Systems Theory
Written by Roger Clarke, this paper provides an overview of Michael Porter's competitive strategy theory, and ties these ideas back to MIS strategic planning. Loaded with important ideas!

Business and I/T Strategic Alignment: New Perspectives and Assessments
Written by by Raymond Papp and Jerry Luftman, this paper describes the results of an important study focused on the interaction between MIS and the business. Another one worth printing.

Business and IT in Harmony: Enablers and Inhibitors to Alignment
Written by Raymond Papp, Jerry Luftman, and Tom Brier, this paper looks at the same study and details the findings regarding successful business goal alignment.

A 'Quick & Dirty' Strategic Plan Outline:

If you are working in a small to medium sized company you may be wondering if it is really possible to follow through with a strategic planning process. The outline below provides a "quick and dirty" approach for creating an MIS strategic plan for your company, even if you are faced with a small budget. Regardless of your business size, alignment of business and the MIS objectives is an exercise which should be performed at least on an annual basis.

  1. Review and Define Strategic Corporate Goals

    Meet with the key executive leadership to specify a list of the primary business goals for the next one to three years. These should include any new product introductions, geographic expansions, new facilities, customer service initiatives, headcount increases, or modified revenue targets.

  2. Review and Analyze Current Technology Infrastructure

    Summarize the current state of the LAN, WAN, server, mainframe, PC, and software asset base. Outline the current strengths and weaknesses. Review any recently announced product upgrades. Document any obvious standardization which has evolved within the company since the last technology review.

  3. Determine Tactical Technology Goals

    Create a list of technology goals for the next one to three years which support the needs of the current business processes, as well as the infrastructure requirements for the new business initiatives. These tactical plans might include LAN/WAN expansions or conversions, internet/intranet implementations, server deployments, major ERP software upgrades, or additional application development.

  4. Create a List of Proposed Projects

    Based on the findings for the previous three sections, a list of major technology and application projects should be developed. These should be broken into tactical projects with defined time requirements. Each project should be clearly linked to the business and technology goals it is intended to support. In addition, any other required projects should be defined which are simply necessary for the the continued maintenance and evolution of the existing technology infrastructure of the business.

  5. Define the Implementation Timeline

    The proposed projects should be put into a realistic time schedule. This schedule is probably best presented in the form of a gantt chart showing the planned time periods for implementing each of the defined projects. This proposed project schedule then becomes a key document for capital and expense budgeting during the upcoming fiscal time periods.

Collecting this information, and then performing the required strategic brainstorming should involve your top executives, business area managers, and technology experts. Consider the use of consultants to bring an outside perspective to the discussions, or to assist in structuring and facilitating the planning process. Remember that any outside consultants should be viewed as advisers, not deciders.

A Short Strategic Consideration Checklist

During your annual strategic planning process, it is probably worthwhile to refer to the checklist below. Each item should be reviewed to see if any policy or procedure changes are required as a result of the newly identified plans. Each of these items has the potential to be impacted by new technology objectives.

  • Review the performance and market plans of you key vendors
  • Review your software licensing approach
  • Review your asset capitalization/leasing/expensing approach
  • Assess your network protocol standards
  • Evaluate your current operating system standards
  • Evaluate your email standards
  • Evaluate you productivity software standards

The key is to end up with a strategic business vision which is backed up by a supportable implementation plan and reasonable set of technology standards. All of these results must show a clear linkage back to the strategic goals and major processes of the business.