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I.T. Strategic Planning Series

I.T. Strategic Planning – The Blog

There are many things I.T. Strategic Planning can cover, blogging isn’t really one of them, unless your an IT Sweat Shop and it’s your portal to the world. Blogs however, tend to be birthed out of Marketing & PR Departments, they are a means to an end when it comes to getting the message out or building community.

From a Strategic Planning perspective, the Blog is a tool, yes it’s a technology platform but not a strategic one, this is not an item the company may live or die on. In my case, I’m a Consultant, a self-employed one at that, one of my tools of choice is this Blog. In this case, not only would it be in my Business Plan, it would also be in my I.T. Strategic Plan. Why? I would have to plan to implement and deliver the platform in order for my business to to do business here.

How would I arrive at such a decision? Well, I am not a large organization with resources, I am a sole Proprietor, I can reach my target market faster and in a more efficient and cost effect way. Hence, I need the Blog! I also need to have a Hosting Company to hold my blog so I am able to deliver my content, not only to my target market but to the world. I started my own webhosting company, it was a place to put my friends & clients, I also wanted learn how the backend works. So the arguement of Tactic & Strategy comes to the forefront yet once again.

This decision was easy for me, almost no money is required, I know how to build the site, and I know how to run the Content Management System. I knew which CMS I was going to use (WordPress Self-Hosted) & which theme, I use Headway Themes.(affiliate link) A no Brainer right?

Today almost every person is or will have a Blog at some point, almost every business will have a Blog, if they don’t, they won’t really have a voice out here and most likely will be out of business. So, the Blog is strategic in some cases, and in today’s digital world, it is imperative.

Having said that, the Blog is also not strategic. Why? There is no way a Blog can circumvent the server and it’s server platform, that has to come first before the Blog. The server, or the hardware required to deliver your information is strategic in that it’s a fixed cost and yet disposable at the same time. In my IT Strategy I would be saying, I need a server, on that server I need to run Windows Server or Linux or whatever server software happens to be the best suited to deliver my content. On that server, there will be web server software, it will be home to the Blog, it will be the space to which I upload and store my content.

As you can see the Blog really can come later, it may be the driving force to having a server but I think not, you will need a place to store files first before you need a Blog. We could go back & forth on this for some time, but the fact is, the Blog is becoming a staple in your business strategy and it is thought of long before the server ever is. So in that sense it’s part of your I.T. Strategic Plan.

What do you think?

I.T. Strategic Plan – Who Is It For?

I have been thinking about this question for some time, because there appears to be a gap between IT Departments / Leaders and the rest of the organization. IT departments tend to think in icolation when it comes to the I.T. Plan. I’m generalizing but, this is normal because IT departments believe that the rest of the organization couldn’t possibly understand the complexities of technology let alone know how to implement it. That’s no longer the truth today, everyone has stepped up and learned more and do infact understand far better what technology means and what it can do. That’s not what I want to share with you right now, lets talk about who the I.T. Plan is for.

If the CIO or the person charged with the technology needs of the organization builds an I.T. Plan without consulting all departments and subject matter experts first, should be relieved of duty. The secret to a successful I.T. Strategic Plan is to ensure you have talked with all areas of the organization. It’s a MUST! If you don’t, you have no way of knowing what they struggle with, what they would like to be able to do, and what things they would like you to fix. The subject matter experts in the organization are your greatest allies, they can help you execute incredible customer service. The organization will know you care about each person, that makes buy in much easier when change takes place in systems they use.

Your responsibility is to deliver the right solutions, the right technology and above the best customer service to your organization. It has nothing to do with technology, it’s about people and always will be. The I.T. Strategic Plan is a road map for the IT Staff, it lays out the years work, and how you will serve the organization on a daily basis.

So, who is the I.T. Strategic Plan for? Who do you think and why?

Measuring Business Processes

Last year I wrote an article called ” I.T. Decisions – Who Makes Them In Your Organization? “. Often the wrong people are making these decisions, they aren’t bad people but they should rely on those who work with Technology and understand the implications of making the wrong choices. One of the best ways to prevent the wrong people from making I.T. decisions is to make sure all business processes are well documented and measured (weighted). Why you ask?

  • If all subject matter experts in your business were to document their business processes, you would know exactly what each staff person has to do each and everyday to get the job done.
  • You then have a foundation to measure the right software applications for your business
  • These business processes can now be measured and weighted to help make I.T. decisions for your organization

Those are just few but you should be getting the idea.

There are many ways of handling the task of measuring business processes but I’ll try to keep it simple for you. There are two things I would recommend:

  1. Build a Database (MySQL or SQL) to store your business processes & the weighting
  2. Build Excel Worksheets to enter & pull these processes and weights from the Database

Years ago I had a couple of really sharp guys working for me, they built a nifty application (system) for us to measure our business processes against features in software applications. We wanted to have a snapshot of how each application matched up against each other, the problem is we didn’t have an easy way to see all our requirements on one page. We also didn’t know which processes were more important than others.

The first step is to pull your key subject matter experts together, get all business processes documented for each role in the organization. This ensured you knew what tasks had to be completed each and everyday to do business. Depending on your business this can be an easy job or a labour intensive one. I highly recommend this gets done regardless of how hard or how long it takes, because it makes future upgrades and or the decision to change a core application in your organization much easier.

Once you have your business processes documented you have something to work with when deciding what software or ERP systems implement, this job takes time but it’s well worth it. Enter these processes into your database, then build spreadsheets to pull that data out for review.

In your database you want to also store a measurement we’ll call weighting for this example. Why? When you sitdown and have software demonstrated you can ask key questions, does this software do this and that from your database. Afterall, you are asking directly from how you do business (your documented business processes). You now want to be able to give that process a score or measurement when sitting in these demonstrations. Your scale might look like this:

1 – Does it well and is easy to use

3 – Does it but not well – not easy to figure out or use

5 – May need to be modified

9 – Not sure – need more information

0 – Doesn’t do it at all

In your spreadsheet you would use the above scale to measure the software you are looking at on a business process by business process basis. Sounds tedious doesn’t it? It is when setting things up the first time, after that it gets much easier because you don’t need to build it again.

This is just one way of measuring your business process against software, you could and should group your business processes by importance as well. That way you know exactly what you MUST have and what the NICE to have’s would be.

I hope that helps, feel free to conatct me if you have questions or wish to go through this process for your business.

I would love your feedback, what do you think and do you have a better way?

I.T. Strategic Planning – ANALYSIS: Observations

planningobservationThis technically could be the last section of your plan, this is where you take a high level look at the plan and existing challenges that may hamper your ability to deliver on any said item. Depending on who and how I.T. decisions are made in your organization could literally dismantle your strategy on many levels. I wrote on this topic back June 2009, it’s called I.T. Decisions – Who Makes Them In Your Organization?

Once you’ve finished this section you can then do an Executive Summary for the purposes of presenting to your Executive Team and or Board of Directors. Here is a short hypothetical example of this section:

PLANNING OBSERVATIONS

A one year planning and budgeting cycle creates significant difficulties for the I.T. Department to execute the early stages of this plan.

  • Hardware and software have to be upgraded or replaced regularly, either to take advantage of newer technologies or reduce maintenance fees. However, sometimes an upgrade would make long term sense but cannot be done because it is too large for a one year budget. This has resulted in a series of sub-optimal short term purchasing decisions being made.
  • Recent budget cuts have forced a multi-year upgrade schedule to be differed resulting in perpetually out-of-date technology.
  • Many projects take longer than one year to complete and require both tools and personnel at the start-up stage, but will not see significant results until the subsequent year.
  • A new service is anticipated to be required by a department in a future year but the department lacks sufficient budget or approval to such an expenditure; however, there might be sufficient lead time for IT to prepare the infrastructure; does IT ” risk it ” and build the infrastructure anyway?

That’s just snippet of what you might put in this Planning Observations section, I suggest you pull your top three together to ensure you are covering the critical issues. You’ll want your IT leaders to be in the loop especially if you are seeking additional budget and it gets rejected, they may be able to assist you with other creative ways to turn the rejection around.

Happy Planning…

I.T. Strategic Planning – ANALYSIS: S.W.O.T.

S.W.O.T.

S.W.O.T.

This section may answer some question but will also bring out more, consider it an opportunity to think tank with your team. The S.W.O.T (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) gives a quick reference to things that may or may not be real, but are possibilities. The accumulation of all these steps builds a road map, an understanding, and makes it possible to explain or describe where you are going in a short concise way, and makes it obvious what you are planning to do in the coming month’s and or years.

Keep in mind there is no wrong or right answer here, you are merely compiling and observing your organizations current status. This is just one step on the journey, one step in building a business case, and one more step in assessing what services and changes are needed to support your organizations business requirements. The basics rarely change, only the technology does, and of course there is always a list of nice to haves, documenting everything helps you filter what’s important and what is not.

Again, this list will be different…it should be as technology and business needs change. Here is an example:

Strengths

1. Minimal Core Infrastructure (name your application here)

2. New, enthusiastic team

3. Knowledge

4. Relationships

5. History

Weaknesses

1. 85% of staff are new to the organization

2. Unable to meet the expectations (Can’t move fast enough to please everyone)

3. Network instability

4. Lack of integration of core applications

Opportunities

1. Social Media Networks

2. Open Source

3. Standardization

4. Partnering

5. Virtualization

Threats

1. Inability to compete for qualified skilled people

2. Security – hacking, spam etc.

3. Inadequate budget

4. Little control over vendor products or direction

5. Little control over technologies

This is just an example of what your S.W.O.T. might look like, pull your team together and ask all the tough questions, make an exhaustive list and then pick the top 5 from each of the 4 areas in your SWOT.

This is the prime definition taken from the Wikipedia site on SWOT Analysis:

SWOT Analysis is a strategic planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or in a business venture. It involves specifying the objective of the business venture or project and identifying the internal and external factors that are favorable and unfavorable to achieving that objective. The technique is credited to Albert Humphrey, who led a convention at Stanford University in the 1960s and 1970s using data from Fortune 500 companies.

Until next time