IT strategy is a way to guide decision making about technology that unleashes benefits that ultimately help the company succeed. It is not a practice that should be confined to enterprise level companies although small and medium sized companies often find that lack of IT expertise in the area of strategy acts as a barrier to its use. Companies of all sizes are dependent upon technology for their business processes, and all can reap the benefits of IT strategy to improve and grow. That's why more and more executives want to know - what is IT strategy?
The Benefits of IT Strategy
To describe the main benefit of IT strategy, it’s useful to identify what it is not. IT strategy is not reactive in nature, although it does provide for flexibility. One of the outcomes of implementing effective IT strategy is transforming unpredictable IT into predictable IT. If predictable IT does not underpin a strategic plan, it is not going to succeed.
By guiding decisions about technology activity and investment, IT strategy allows companies to focus resources on creating a reliable IT framework on which they can unlock the potential that IT has to achieve overriding goals while improving the technology experience for employees and customers.
The Starting Point – Business Alignment
IT strategy does not start with IT. It starts with the executives who are leading the company and the specific objectives that are included in the business plan. Some examples of objectives are:
- Revenue growth
- Cost reduction
- Customer satisfaction
- Increase market share
It’s also important to delve into the plans that different departments have to support the business strategy. Finance, Operations, Human Resources, and Sales and Marketing have their unique needs and by themselves will not find the places where they intersect each other.
Going through the process of creating IT strategy has a unifying effect because there is someone listening to the needs and challenges of each area and making connections between departments that will help them make better decisions about technology.
Putting Wheels on IT Strategy – The IT Roadmap
A strategy is just wishful thinking unless it has the tactics to implement it. That’s where the IT roadmap comes in. The roadmap lays out the steps that the company will take to execute the strategy. The starting point depends on what kind of IT environment is currently in place. A company with a very unpredictable IT framework will need to identify and prioritize the investments that are needed to transform it into a predictable environment.
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For companies where IT is not causing day-to-day frustration and problems, the roadmap provides clear focus when people or departments ask for new functionality. Because the strategy is documented, decision makers have a tool to use to measure how the proposal fits in with the budget and future plans. Having a predictable budget for IT is a key benefit of IT strategy.
An IT budget actually allows companies to be more flexible when something unexpected happens. They know what their technology lay of the land looks like so they can pivot when needed, and adjust their plan when circumstances change. They can also jump on innovative ideas when they pop up because they have a solid technology foundation on which to build.
The Key Player - the CIO
The role of IT manager has not historically included the kind of executive and management interaction that is required to align technology with business goals. That’s where many companies get stuck. They look to their internal IT department, or even their IT support company, for guidance but it’s not there. They end up making decisions about technology that don’t give them the results they expect because they missed this critical role. They really need the expertise of a Chief Information Officer (CIO) but because of their size, that seems out of reach.