What is strategic IT planning?

Every organization, regardless of industry and size, should have an IT strategy in place that fully supports the overall business strategy.  Whether you are a small association with a handful of staff, or a larger organization like Apple or Google, developing an IT strategic plan is a vital part of your overall business strategy. 

The work required to create an IT strategy may vary a great deal based on the complexity and size of the organization, but there are specific activities that all IT organizations must master in order to effectively and efficiently support the business strategy.

What is IT Strategy?

The first principle of creating an IT Strategy is alignment.  By alignment, we are referring to the fact that first there is business strategy, then IT strategy.  Strategic planning is the process of creating implementation plans that support both through a set of coordinated activities.

So once you’ve created the strategy, it’s time to put it into action with a strategic plan.

Strategic IT planning is the process of using your IT strategy to create an implementation plan.

Why is strategic IT planning a challenge for associations?

There are a few reasons that implementation is a particular problem for associations.

Resources. A lot of the time, IT teams in associations are small. They may not have the people or skill resources to implement changes themselves. According to research conducted by Info-Tech, 84 percent of IT departments surveyed described their IT strategies as less than adequate.

Timing. The process of gaining leadership approval is somewhat unique in associations because they often have complex governance structures, which can make it a more time-consuming process. The investments required to implement an IT strategy often come with a sizable price tag and that level of spend needs to be approved. 

Autonomy. An organization’s IT team doesn’t always have the authority or support within the organization necessary to make changes outlined in the strategy. 

Why is it important for associations to tackle that challenge?

Proper strategic IT planning positively impacts an association’s internal teams and members in several ways. 

Focus. Creating a thoughtful, well-done IT strategy with direction can help focus teams and the teams you collaborate with. The strategy becomes a co-pilot for everything your IT team is doing. It can help them understand when to say no to a request, and the opportunity cost of saying yes to all requests.

Investment. In order to make a case for investment, an organization needs to have gone through a strategic planning process. That strategy becomes the keystone in unblocking barriers by creating a compelling case for investment, dollars to buy new technology, people’s time, extra staff, etc. When you focus on how the function of IT relates to business goals, you can make a better business case for investing in technology.

Empowerment. Having a clear roadmap illuminates what the IT team should be doing and how they fit into your larger business goals. Rather than micromanagement, your senior leadership team can delegate tasks and the IT team will understand why and what they’re trying to achieve. This process empowers them to understand how their actions contribute to the organization’s goals.

How Cimatri approaches strategic IT planning

Understanding the current state

The first and most important step is to understand the business context for implementing your strategic plan. What capabilities does the business have already and what are its goals? Where are stakeholder pain points? The implementation process should be driven by business questions, not technology questions. It’s not about “we want to move on to a new tech stack or vendor” it’s about “we want to increase our member engagement, retention, margins, etc.”

It also requires an understanding of the current state of IT capabilities and level of maturity. At Cimatri, we take a data-driven approach to defining IT maturity. 

At the senior leadership level, for example, we offer an Executive Alignment Assessment and an IT Management Assessment. These assessments are designed to align IT with the CEO’s priorities and analyze how good IT is at delivering on the strategic needs of the organization. 

These assessments offer a fast, affordable, and highly targeted data-driven way to gather actionable insights and use that information to improve your IT alignment. 

Understanding the target state

The desired changes in IT’s priorities, performance, tools, etc. are all driven by the broader business goals you have established. With those goals in mind, it helps to focus on what IT needs to enable in order to reach those goals. Asking questions like, “what capabilities does IT need to facilitate? And what tools, processes, etc. will the department need to facilitate those capabilities?”

From strategic business goals, you can create associated IT goals, based on what your IT staff needs to be able to support. From existing IT capabilities, we develop a list of target state capabilities.

Bridging the gap

A gap analysis is necessary to outline what needs to be done to “bridge the gap” between where your IT capabilities are and where your organization needs them to be. There are likely some initiatives already in place and Cimatri helps our clients identify what initiatives still need more definition. We create a roadmap that prioritizes initiatives that will help get IT operations where they need to be, a sequence for implementing them, and the budget necessary to make the transition.

Between the status quo and the target state, we create a roadmap. This consists of initiatives to help us reconcile the current state with the target state, and bring your IT people, process, and technology into alignment with the business goals. 

Ultimately, your strategic IT plan should provide answers for how you get from point A to point B, how long it will take, the resources required (staff, dollars, time, etc.) Additionally, it should include plans for how you will communicate within the organization, and externally, if necessary.

Strategic IT planning puts business goals first

That same Info-Tech survey mentioned earlier found that 47 percent of business leaders did not feel their goals were supported by IT. This lack of alignment between senior leadership and IT staff is a crucial gap that puts goals in jeopardy. Your organization can’t afford to neglect strategic IT planning as a priority. 

Looking for help with IT alignment? Cimatri helps associations assess their IT strategy and create a roadmap to success. Contact us today to get started.