Ask any CIO and they’ll tell you success comes from only one thing: planning.
At even the smallest businesses, the heads of IT departments need to both create and execute IT plans on both a macro- and micro-level, crafting multi-layered strategic plans that cover entire organizations all the way down to the business unit and individual.
Considering the eye-watering complexity of modern business IT infrastructure, it’s more critical now than ever that CIOs and CTOs craft IT strategic plans that are not only comprehensive but cost and labor-effective. An inability to craft and deliver a strategic IT plan is a death knell for any senior-level IT executive – and the IT teams that have to follow them.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the basics of IT strategic planning from a high level. Frankly, it’s impossible to teach someone how to make an IT strategic plan. Sure, you can put the pieces together, but you need high-level experience and expertise to really nail it.
We won’t try to get that specific, as that could lead to us giving information that doesn’t apply to your business – instead, we’ll cover the basics of what an IT strategic plan is, some general concepts to follow for best practices, and finally leave you with some templates to start off with. Let’s dig in.
Who Creates An IT Strategic Plan?
Given the technical expertise and deep understanding of business objectives required, these leaders are best positioned to steer the ship. Collaborative efforts with departments like finance, marketing, and operations ensure a holistic strategy that aligns with the company’s overarching mission and vision.
Components of IT Strategies
An effective IT strategic plan is built upon a thorough analysis of the organization’s performance, taking into account its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (a SWOT analysis).
You need to establish a baseline of the internal side of your business (what you do well and what you don’t) and the environment you’re operating in (where there are chances to grow and where your business may be threatened).
Once you’ve got a baseline understanding of your business and the world you’re operating in, you can then begin to develop a strategy to take advantage of opportunities and protect yourself against threats.
When developing your strategy, it’s important to leave no stone unturned. Get down to microscopic levels of attention to uncover any possible opportunities or threats.
It’s good to start from a high level, and work down from there – here’s some of the key areas that you should focus on when in the early stages of understanding your current IT.
- Technology Roadmap: A detailed list of current tech investments, including physical investments like servers, digital investments like SaaS or PaaS, and human investments such as your IT team. It’s also important to understand what they do and how they can help impact your goals moving forward.
- IT Inventory: A comprehensive list of current IT capabilities and resources. This is different from the roadmap because it’s a simple picture of what you can currently do and what capacity you have to make changes right now, without additional investment.
- IT Governance: Standards ensuring optimal performance and security. Given the critical nature of cybersecurity in the 2020s, this is a critical element to consider.
- Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Probably the most important bit of all – KPIs are goals that you can use to evaluate the plan’s success. Without KPIs, how will you know what to aim for? And without them, how will you know if your strategic plan is working?
- Timelines: Estimated durations for strategy implementation. This allows everyone to get on the same page and understand the bigger picture, while also giving day-to-day structure for your team to follow.
- Responsibility & Workflows: Clear delineations of responsibilities for all involved parties, and how they will accomplish those responsibilities. Without clear duties and goals for each individual person and business unit, it’s impossible for anyone to know what they’re supposed to be doing at any given time.
- Transition Support: Resources like training and communication tools to facilitate the shift towards new objectives. How will you get your employees on board and keep them on the path of the new strategic plan?
The Simple 5-Step Strategic IT Plan
As we said earlier, every IT strategic plan is different, and every time you create one, even at the same company – the entire thing will be different, with different stakeholders, different scales, different teams, different objectives, and so on.
However, you can always follow this general blueprint for creating a plan.
Step 1: Define Strategic Objectives for IT
- Business Alignment: Ensure IT objectives resonate with the company’s mission, vision, and long-term aspirations. If you’re working on smaller projects with smaller teams, aligning with their individual business goals and timelines is key.
- Innovation Focus: In IT, you have to embrace groundbreaking technologies and methodologies or you’ll die. When creating our new plan, look for the newest tools, like AI, to make a more efficient plan.
- Risks and Rewards: Here’s where you can identify potential IT opportunities and their relative risks – and devise strategies to take advantage or protect against them.
Step 2: Weave In Your IT Objectives With Business Objectives
- Engage with departmental heads to align your project’s objectives with their objectives and challenges. This way you can optimize your plan for maximum efficiency.
- Scrutinize market and environmental trends to make sure you’re staying relevant and agile to this moment in time – and where you think things are going.
- Pinpoint areas where IT can offer solutions, usually via improving efficiency or eliminating some bottleneck.
Step 3: Prioritize Actionable Initiatives
- Assess the viability of each IT initiative. Make sure it’s even worth your time to attempt it.
- Gauge the resources required for each endeavor and estimate how much they can improve your business by beating your KPIs.
- Rank projects based on their prospective business impact vs. their respective costs.
Step 4: Define Your Plan
- Detail IT objectives and the strategies to realize them.
- Set quantifiable KPIs to monitor progress.
- Define a timeline for each initiative, complete with project milestones, and responsibilities appropriately assigned to maintain accountability.
Step 5: Execute On Your Plan
- Communicate your plan to the various stakeholders and users. Make sure everyone knows what’s going on and what’s expected of them.
- Organize training modules for all teams involved. Put them into practice, receive feedback, and iterate on your training plan to improve it.
- Track progress and iterate on your discoveries. Continually make the plan better through the data you’re receiving. Adapt the plan as you go to deal with changes in the macro environment.
Examples And Templates Of IT Strategic Planning
Here are three examples of IT templates from heavy hitters in the business IT world like industry leader Gartner, as well as smaller, more focused companies that specialize in this kind of strategy. We’ll include links to the various templates themselves.
1. Gartner’s One-Page IT Strategy Template
Gartner emphasizes clarity in their One-Page IT Strategy Template, with a focus on clearly and directly defining what success is in your IT undertaking, big or small. According to their plan, IT executives like CIOs need to focus their strategy on three key areas and build around them:
- Context – What are the internal and external factors that are at play here? What opportunities and threats arise from that operational context?
- Direction – What objectives, goals, strategies, and principles will we agree upon to ensure all efforts are aligned and moving forward in the same direction, towards a common goal?
- Actions – What actions have to be undertaken to reach the strategic goals set out at the onset? How will these actions be measured for improvement?
2. Info-Tech Research Group’s SME IT Strategic Plan
Tailored for small and mid-sized enterprises, the SME IT Strategic Plan Template from Info-Tech is a simple, easy-to-follow, if not overly simplistic IT plan. This one has a simple outline to follow that supports the accomplishment of your overall business strategy via a strategic IT plan.
The goal here, as we outlined, is simplicity – Info-Tech wants this to be a general, catch-all guide that can fit any industry and enterprise, and be adapted to fit any need.
3. CIO Index’s IT Strategy Template
This no-nonsense template is simple, accessible, and most importantly, free. Created by the CIO Index – a group created to facilitate open collaboration between CIOs in the IT industry – this IT Strategy Template CIO Index is a worksheet you can work through to define your strategy and put a plan into place to achieve the goals you set.
It has a series of questions that can help facilitate the creation of a robust, comprehensive IT strategic plan for your business, by analyzing your current situation against the current
The overarching areas it covers are:
- Baseline analysis
- Customer profiles and demographics
- Channel revenue breakdowns
- SWOT analysis
- Pain points and objectives
- Organizational charts and workflow
- IT strategy scrutiny
- Trend analysis of the environment
- Current IT capability assessment
Start General, Get Specific
As we’ve said a thousand times in this guide – these are just high-level, general guides and templates to get you started on creating a comprehensive and holistic strategic IT plan.
Starting generally like this will help paint a giant picture for both you and your team to understand the situation and put together a plan to push your company forward. However, it’s critical to always drill down to the nitty gritty elements of your IT to make sure you’re optimizing every dollar you spend.
Gartner – CIO Guide Strategic Planning and Prioritization
TechTarget – 8 free IT strategic planning templates and examples for CIOs
CIOIndex – 14 Complete IT Strategy Guides For CIOs
Cascade Strategy – IT Strategic Plan: A 5-Step Planning Process
BMC Blogs – How to Create an IT Strategy: Getting Started
Pluralsight – IT strategic planning: How to develop + implement your strategy