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Written by: Craige Benjamin

How To Align IT Strategy With Business Expectations

“CIO” may no longer stand for “Career Is Over”, with Chief Information Officer tenure at around 4.5 years on average, just below the 5.3 years average across the C-suite. Many IT Execs are moving between industries too, with Digital Transformation being the trend du jour driving much of this movement.

Providing effective information and technology services continues to challenge the best. Expectations diverge and grow, fuelled by changes in business, rapid developments in technology, the promise of instant fixes and a healthy dose of marketing hype. To precis the words of the wise Scottish muse, Sir William Connolly: “We want this! And that! We want it now! I want it yesterday, I want more tomorrow, and the demands will all be changed then so stay awake!” Business leaders are usually more savvy than this, thankfully.

The reality for executives responsible for all things information and technology and digital and transformation (lets call them the CIO and IT for now) is that new business demands must be balanced against existing commitments, legacy systems and resource constraints. You will need to cater for a diverse workforce too, from old dogs who fear the keyboard to those digitally dexterous Millennials. Unfair? Yes. Impossible? Almost. Here is a simple approach that should help in directing your strategy efforts and improve alignment:

Engage & Understand

Engage with business leaders, your peers and your team to gather information and develop an all-round view of the business, its priorities and requirements. Understand the business strategy and objectives around growth, innovation and efficiency, and IT’s role in enabling and achieving these – this is your mandate! One-on-ones and brainstorming sessions are useful for information gathering, as are targeted surveys and industry benchmarks. Be sure to canvas key influencers and decision makers, and work with your team to obtain their insight and buy-in. Keep it simple – a top-five approach and SWOT analysis or “do well/don’t do well, need more of/need less of” matrix may help to focus discussions.

  Build an IT Strategy

There is far more to strategy than could be addressed in this short article, and approaches vary. Start with the business strategy and adapt, or state your business strategy assumptions if one has not been documented. Some of the components to include are:

´  Vision or mission – Adapt the business vision or mission statement to the IT context.

´  Values – Adopt the business values verbatim (or guess if these have not been articulated). Organisational values should be consistent and enduring.

´  Principles – Define 6-8 IT principles to guide behaviour and decision making.

´  Objectives – Develop 8-10 IT objectives which are aligned with and support the business mission and objectives. Understand how business and IT objectives are to be measured.

´  Key initiatives – Include a short-list of initiatives from the Roadmap which are strongly aligned with achieving business objectives (come back to this point once the Roadmap has been developed further).

Render all of this down to a single A3 Strategy-on-a-Page view which is graphical and easy to communicate across audiences. Business people will not have patience for detailed techno-speak.

   Develop a Roadmap

Develop a roadmap of initiatives in parallel with the IT strategy. Include requirements and projects identified through your information gathering as well as existing commitments. Link these back to the business and IT objectives to confirm alignment and demonstrate how objectives are to be achieved. Make a first pass at prioritisation, using a simple A/B/C scale. Now attempt to estimate the timeframe, scale/cost and ownership for the top 15 or 20 initiatives. Time, resource and budget constraints will surface during this process, and compromises will need to be agreed with your peers and the IT Steering Group during the next stage. The roadmap becomes quite comprehensive, and you will need a graphical, summary view which is easier to communicate than the original.

   Review & Refine

Test and improve the strategy and roadmap with peers, executive management and your team leaders. There will be too much to do within the time and resource constraints, and the IT Steering Group is a valuable channel for arbitration and decision. The review process is a great way to gain agreement on priorities and resourcing, and to manage expectations.

  Communicate

With the strategy and roadmap refined and agreed at executive level it is time to communicate more widely. Package the strategy and roadmap into more digestible, graphical summary views, preferably into a single A3 Strategy-on-a-Page, an A3 Roadmap of Initiatives and some supporting material. Present this to the executive team (and the IT Steering Group if different to the exec team), your peers and their management teams. Workshop with your IT team to create a shared understanding and commitment to the objectives and initiatives.

“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”

   Implement

This is where the rubber hits the road! Many a strategy (and CIO career) has failed because of an inability to translate plans into action, and you will need to build and maintain momentum. Translate the roadmap into a programme of work. Include existing projects and commitments and identify some Quick Wins to demonstrate early progress and build confidence. Capacity will be a major challenge, with resources already committed to existing work. You may need to stop some projects or engage contractors and consultants to make meaningful progress. Track benefits and communicate on progress, successes and compromises.

  Rinse & Repeat

Remain open to refining and improving through every stage of the development. Revise the objectives and initiatives regularly to accommodate changing priorities and remain aligned – this is also a valuable opportunity to engage across the organisation. Expect to review the strategy more formally every year or so, probably as input to the business planning cycle. IT strategy is part of business strategy and cannot be developed in isolation. It is also dynamic and needs to respond to and sometimes drive business, market and technology changes.

You will need to invest a significant amount of time to make meaningful progress in this first iteration. Get some help! Delegate where you can, although your team is probably heavily committed already. Consider backfilling with contractors to free up capacity. Engaging consultants with the right approach and expertise to facilitate the process and undertake some of the work may be an effective way to drive this forward.

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