by Carrie Mathews  

Strategic Planning Takes Planning

Dec 01, 20065 mins
IT Leadership

In the first half of 2006, strategic planning was the subject of more peer-to-peer consultations among the 428 members of the CIO Executive Council than any other topic except governance. On its face, a strategic plan is a simple thing: a document that enables the enterprise to see what projects are planned and what goals the IT department has set to support business objectives. But creating one can be a long and arduous process, and it can’t be done in a vacuum; business input is essential. Members of the CIO Executive Council offer tips on how to make strategic planning pay off.

Identify Owners

The short answer to the question of who owns IT strategy is “Everyone.” But if everyone’s goals were included in the plan, it would quickly become unwieldy. Jackie Barretta, CIO at Con-Way, works with her 15-member enterprise architecture group to identify IT strategies at a broad level, but the IT strategy is set at a more detailed level by the three individual business units. This was a no-brainer as the EA group’s mission is to work with the business and stay up to speed on emerging technologies.

At Cardinal Health, a dedicated pair of individuals oversee the strategic planning process in IT. They then recruit other participants depending on what they’re working on and depending on what stage the plan is in. “For example,” says Tom Perrine, senior VP in IT who manages Cardinal’s strategic planning process, “a larger team might work for a few months on a set of strategies and during this process give 50 percent to 80 percent of its time to strategic planning. When it’s finished, the people go back to their everyday responsibilities and my strategic planning team recruits a different group.”

Get Business Input

Workgroups and planning sessions are good venues to elicit your business colleagues’ input for the IT strategic plan. Ironically, the business folk often want to talk about technology in these meetings, but CIOs should discourage that. According to CIO David Wagner of ON Semiconductor, “I try to get the business side focused on what outcome they’re trying to achieve so we can spend our energy thinking about possible solutions. I don’t need to hear about a new technology system they just read about.”

The same thing happens at Con-Way. “It’s natural for the business to get excited about what they want to see in a system,” says Barretta. But in her two-day planning sessions with each business area, she encourages the businesspeople to focus on where Con-Way is heading and how IT can be a partner in that effort. To keep things moving, Barretta’s six-person facilitator team has been trained to lead strategic planning sessions. Each facilitator has a deep knowledge of a particular part of the business and is schooled in the right types of questions to ask.

Participate in the Business Plan

In many companies, an IT strategic plan is not the company’s only road map. There may be a separate business plan from which IT takes its cues.

In some companies, the CIO is an active participant in building that plan, the better to ensure alignment and an integral role for IT in achieving the business’s ambitions.

As one of the CFO’s direct reports, Jody Davids, executive VP and CIO, brings IT into the overall business strategic plan at Cardinal Health. The high-level business strategic planning is done by the executive team, thereby creating a coordinated and aligned enterprise-level plan. As Davids’ colleague Perrine puts it, “In some ways, the whole planning process is not really about the final document you create, but about the mental alignment you build in your leadership team by working together.”

Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) CIO Jeff Neville heads up the IT and enterprisewide strategic planning. “I partner with the VP of HR to meet with each of the VPs at EMS. We aren’t just working on the strategy for technology, but also on required skills and staffing resources,” says Neville.

Unfortunately, all too often the business lacks a clearly articulated strategic plan, leaving CIOs with the task of cajoling some sort of direction from the business leadership. This is frequently the situation in entrepreneurial cultures. Eugene Nizker, former CIO of Custom House Global Foreign Exchange, developed a set of questions designed to encourage the business to define growth, products and services, mergers and acquisitions, and channel strategies. (For Nizker’s queries, see the online version of this article at


For many CIOs, the strategic plan is typically communicated at a town hall meeting or posted on the intranet. Neville is experimenting with using an intranet wiki. “I want to engage people in thinking about how we’ll accomplish the plan and feel like it’s a decision that we’ve all had a part in making,” he says.

An important element in effective communication is consistency. Wagner, for instance, has displayed a one-page strategy graphic at every board meeting he’s attended since 2002.

“Before I got here, we were operating more by a strategy of the moment,” he says. Today, Wagner reinforces a consistent and clear picture of what IT wants to do to provide bottom-line value to the organization. Says Wagner: “You have to be focused on the bulls-eye of your strategic plan: Are we creating value for the company?”

Carrie Mathews is a senior program manager at the CIO Executive Council.