Developing Business IT Strategies

Traditionally, business strategies and IT strategies were often developed and implemented in isolation, with very little overlap between the two silos of operation. IT executives often did not think and communicate in business terms, and business executives likewise found technology difficult to understand and confusing to use.

As technology became more and more important to any enterprise, companies and organisations are finding competitive advantage in implementing internal and external change through effective planning, implementation and use of information communication technologies. Increasingly, as we have seen with outward facing e-commerce and inward focused knowledge management systems, IT is very much embedded within the core of business operations.

Nowadays when any business conducts business planning and strategy formulation, technology and business operations are often combined in a single business IT strategy. Developing such an information and business technology strategy for your organisation has many steps, but usually can be distilled down to assessing your current and future needs, defining strategic objectives and a vision for the future, and initiating change programmes to achieve those objectives.

Whether you are responsible for corporate IT at a large multinational company or just someone that people look to for all things technology related at a small and medium sized enterprise (SME), developing a comprehensive business IT strategy can help your company manage aging systems and limited resources better. Get on top of dissatisfied users and fragmented IT solutions which are no longer delivering value to the business by following the five key steps detailed below.

Step 1: Gather information

The first stage to the process is to gather as much information as you can regarding your current technology landscape and an honest appraisal of how effective this is meeting your business requirements. You will need to conduct focus groups or individual interviews with key executives to gather their feedback about what technology needs they have. Invite and solicit information and data about technical as well as business problems your company faces. Given finite resources, you will also need to discuss how best to utilise currently available operational IT budgets to support the development of products and services serving the needs of internal as well as external stakeholders. Looking at past case studies, assess and debate the success of previous investments and draw out what worked well, what didn't work so well and how it can be improved. Finally, a reminder that it is key to get representation from every level of the company, so establishing a steering committee or task force group to oversee the process is essential.

Step 2: Identify goals

At the completion of stage one above you are now in a position to identify your company's strategic goals, which need to be aligned to your IT objectives to enable successful technology-led change. Having high-level sponsorship and support is key, so make sure all the important executives are on board. Define mandatory baselines of performance complying with regulatory and legal requirements. In certain industries such as the biotechnology and financial services industries these regulatory requirements will affect the outcome of your objectives with significant impact on the output, such as projects and activities undertaken when updating your network infrastructure, implementing an enterprise security plan, establishing an identify management strategy and enhancing your procurement processes.

Step 3: Analyse options

After the previous two steps have been completed you are now in a position to analyse all available options open to you. Managing escalating IT project costs is an overriding priority at many businesses, so it's worthwhile conducting exercises such as brainstorming for ideas to keep costs down. Seek opportunities to minimise redundancy and reuse information, and look for ways to reduce the most expensive items, such as utility and support costs. For example, companies have found by standardising business operations and implementing a data warehouse they are able to share data between applications. The same business critical information, such as customer details, can be used to improve customer support, target marketing campaigns and analyse customer spend trends across the business.

Step 4: Implement solutions

From the above exercise you should now be in a position to define a portfolio of IT investments and plan a series of projects to carry out technology changes. As a complex undertaking you should use project management techniques to plan, organise and deploy IT rollouts across the company. Detailed requirements for different types of business needs should be defined, such as process improvements, identifying new opportunities, leveraging current business information better, and maximising use of existing infrastructure are just some examples. Prioritise your investments as you finalise your business IT strategy as we cannot target all outcomes at the same time.

Step 5: Evaluate and review

The last and final step in the process is to review your business IT strategy on an annual basis, with allocation of budgets on a rolling basis. Validate and review data accuracy, gauge acceptable levels of customer satisfaction using surveys and other methods to ensure both internal and external customers remain on side. Document and review cost and time savings through newly implemented technology-led business change, and make appropriate adjustments to investments if key success criteria are not met.