Technology changes so fast, planning no longer makes sense.
“The IT strategic plan has the same value it always has,” says IT consultant Laurie Orlov.
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“Planning never goes out of style.” If your strategic plan were simply a laundry list of projects (see “Anatomy of an IT Strategic Plan“), yes, you’d be in trouble. “However, if a strategic plan operates in support of the business, it will never go out of date,” says Forrester VP and research director Alex Cullen. “And the faster business moves, the more important it is.”
A strategic plan should be good for five years.
“A few years ago, people approached the IT strategic plan the way old communist China did its five-year plans. Five years later, it’s time to do another one,” says Cullen. But no matter how good your crystal ball, it’s awfully hard to be accurate when you’re looking five years into the future. Another problem: You never get really skilled at strategic planning because you do it only twice a decade. A strategic plan can cover a five-year span but the focus should be on the first few years and the plan should be revisited at least twice a year. “It should be a process,” says Cullen, “not an event.”
The smaller your IT budget, the less you need a strategic plan.
How hard can it be to figure out how to spend $500,000 a year? Pretty hard if you want to make sure you’re focusing on initiatives that will support the business. “If you’re on a limited budget with limited resources and you don’t have a plan, you’re not going to succeed,” says Michael Hites, CIO of New Mexico State University and a man with a half-million-dollar IT budget. “You won’t be able to keep up with technology change because you’ll never know which changes to follow.”
You can’t create a strategic plan for IT because your business doesn’t have a strategic plan.
The business can float along without a clear strategy (or one that covers all areas of its operations) but IT can’t. Fuzzy business goals present a challenge but smart CIOs can use that as an opportunity to help the business define itself. Some, like Hites, have taken on corporate strategist roles as a result. Even if the business is in the midst of change, you’re still not off the hook. “A business can be in a state of flux but it’s never stalled completely,” says Orlov. “If you’re observant, there are probably things right in front of you that are business objectives that can’t be achieved without IT.”