IT leadership roles such as CIO, CISO, CDO, or any other derivatives, are getting increasingly complicated. The reasons for this complexity are obvious. For starters, there’s this massive sense of expectation around IT (entirely justified), considering how even the world’s oldest and largest corporations are dependent on technology to survive, sustain, and grow. Then, there is a clear pressure among enterprise IT leaders to downsize their teams, resulting in a requirement-resource gap that is often a handicap for IT. Plus, there’s way too much heavy-duty marketing around new technologies, outdated old technologies, new service models – all resulting in a lot of ambiguity around how IT transformation should occur and how it will look when it is transformed. How do CIOs keep things in control? How do they ensure that IT becomes a value creator, not merely a ticket solver? How do IT teams adopt a role greater than mere management of existing systems? The answer lays in strategy — more specifically, an IT strategy plan. Let’s explore how this works.
The need to look beyond the ‘urgent’
The sum of all the forces mentioned above is that CIOs and other IT leaders are forced to align operations, mechanisms, processes, and even IT goals with the conventional key performance indicators (KPIs). The problem with conventional KPIs is that they have been in place for years and don’t really challenge IT to perform value-creation roles. No wonder, looking past the immediate needs becomes difficult and is often a forgotten art for IT leaders. The urgent keeps on pushing off the important, and the enterprise is left with an IT engine that barely manages to pull the vehicle along.
Focus on ‘why,’ not ‘what’
To embark on strategic level planning for your enterprise’s IT, you’ll need to mobilize domain experts and help them move above the tactical level of execution. Addressing near-term challenges, of course, is important. However, to attain a better future for IT, it’s critical that everyone involved realize the need to divide their time between tactical and strategic execution.
Every so often, IT strategy plans are focused on laying down a list of initiatives and timelines. Instead, CIOs would do well to think of strategic planning with their marketing hats on, because they need to sell the idea to their teams, more than anybody else. Rather than focusing on what you want to achieve for IT, focus on communicating why it’s necessary. This gives confidence to participants and stakeholders to overcome inhibitions and inertia.
IT strategy plan – Connecting all stakeholders
Here’s a challenge – interact with 10 IT leaders, and ask if their enterprise’s business teams have a copy of the IT strategy plan. You know the answers. Here are the reasons why IT strategy plan documents often become history, without a word being spoken about them.
- Most CIOs make IT strategy documents because the CEO asked them to. The result is a document created haphazardly in a week, based on nothing but the opinions of the highest paid IT leaders in the enterprise.
- It’s almost rare for an IT strategy plan document to be drafted, revised, and finalized based on inputs from the most important stakeholders – the business community and the executives.
- The suffocating use of jargon and highly ambiguous phraseology is the equivalent of a self-detonating bomb; if you make this mistake, you can expect the target audience to not even bother flipping over pages.
What should you do?
- Keep the IT strategy plan jargon free.
- Float the drafts within executive and business circles to acquire critical feedback that helps you fine-tune the strategy and align it with business goals and executive capabilities.
- Treat it as a platform for stakeholders to collaborate and communicate to let IT get absorbed through the enterprise’s business functions.
This helps all stakeholders get a better perspective on the power of IT, and will gradually help the enterprise evolve in terms of treating IT as value creators instead of troubleshooters.
Keeping distributed IT aligned to the core goals
The IT workforce is changing, and for most enterprises, there is at least some degree of distributed IT. A huge problem is that distributed IT can prove to be a bottleneck in terms of implementing the strategic plan devised in the above step. Even geographically spread out IT becomes tough to align to common strategic orientation. This is where IT leaders need to find a way to create a concise and graphic version of the IT strategy plan.
This makes it easy for you to give a tangible shape to the plan and make it visible to serve as reminder of how entire IT is aligned to the strategy. This helps CIOs communicate a sense of direction to the cumulative IT efforts. By using the plan as a reference point to direct actions and arrive on decisions, enterprise IT re-enforces its commitment to the strategy, and mobilizes the IT workforce toward the same goals.
Communicating IT’s efforts to the enterprise
The desired end result out of investing time, effort, and resources into creating an IT strategy plan is to make sure that IT’s ideas, perspectives, goals, and challenges are shared across the community in an accessible manner. The IT strategy plan is the way a CIO markets his team to business, and a glue that keeps the disparate IT units sticking together. This plan helps everyone focus on the big picture, along with promoting acknowledgement of the challenges that are sure to come.
CIOs would do well to chalk out a communication plan under which they send out enterprise-level communications on a weekly basis, with messages on what’s been done, and what’s being done, in line with the IT strategy plan. This helps chronicle the team’s efforts, communicates a sense of persistence, and creates memorable milestones in the long journey.
Empower your company
Don’t let IT only be the team of problem solvers in your enterprise; the modern IT department can empower a business to do a lot more, much quicker, and much better than it’s ever been done before.
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