Today, more than ever before and often without us noticing, technology touches every part of our lives. Organizations’ adoption of next-generation technologies, automated tools, and Agile and DevOps methodologies have given IT a crucial role both in the customer experience and in business transformation. The ability of a business to harness powerful technical capabilities is challenging and rewarding. Achieving synergy between people, processes and technology is not an easy task, and CIOs must formulate a modern IT strategy that aligns with new technology-enabled realities.
An agile IT strategy sets the direction for an organization’s IT function and identifies how to leverage technology in a way that maximizes business value and improves ROI using the fewest possible resources. Unfortunately, many IT strategy initiatives are purely aspirational, with unachievable goals and strategic artefacts that are documented before being shelved or discontinued in the middle of implementation. To realize success, drafting an IT strategy should be consistent and actionable.
Drivers for IT Strategy
A functional IT strategy helps organizations to minimize operational bottlenecks, reduce their total cost of ownership (TCO) and derive value from technology. There are multiple drivers for defining an IT strategy in the Digital Era:
- Technology Change: Technology changes constantly. Adopting new technologies in near-real time is mandatory for organizations to maintain their market relevance.
- Social Media: The quickest way to share information among (and with) end users is also critical in developing a solution to business problems. Social-media features need to be integrated with the IT strategy definition.
- Open-Source Adoption: The days of avoiding open-source platforms have long since passed. Organizations should evaluate open-source technologies for both software and hardware as a means to reduce expenses.
- Cloud: Almost all organizations are moving from on-premise facilities to the cloud to improve their TCO, adopting Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) models across their IT portfolio.
- Security: Companies are increasingly forced to decide which threats to guard against and how much to invest in their safety. Factors such as performance, quality, reliability and scalability are the most fundamental aspects to keep the organization running smoothly and securely.
- Development Methods and Tools: Adopting agile methodologies and DevOps is helping organizations establish rapid development models that will support their business transformation.
- Automation: Technologies like robotic process automation, machine learning, virtual reality and augmented reality are becoming key components in an organization’s IT portfolio.
- Mobility: Today’s customers, service providers and business users are all mobile. Online and mobility services must be integrated into business processes to enable easy access and provisioning for all stakeholders.
While different in technology, role and scope, the drivers above must all be addressed in an IT strategy. Consequently, organizations must remain agile in their development of an IT strategy rather than taking an “Ivory Tower” or “traditional” approach to its definition.
How to Develop an Agile IT Strategy
Developing an agile IT strategy is based on high-level parameters such as where the organization is today and where it wants to be in next three to five years. The critical elements of the definition process should consider business drivers, IT drivers, business imperatives, and business capabilities driven by IT. The strategy should also address the increasing digitization and unpredictability of many industry domains, providing the speed to work independent of (and perhaps eliminating) external consultants.
The idea of an agile IT strategy is to keep the annual and multiyear plan consistent, inserting regular and frequent check-ins along the way. Business leaders may revisit the IT strategy quarterly or every six months to ensure it continues to create optimal business value, with the strategy team discussing technology changes and trends and making roadmap adjustments accordingly.
Broadly, IT strategy has five phases: Discovery, Assessment, Current-State IT, Target-State IT, and Roadmap. The Discovery, Assess and Current IT phases are executed sequentially, though Target State IT and IT Strategy Roadmap can be executed in an agile way.
- Discovery: In this phase, businesses identify key stakeholders, conduct interviews and determine the mandate for defining an IT strategy. By discussing stakeholder concerns, information needs and desired uses of the IT strategy, this phase informs how to address the concerns of stakeholders who have the most power and are most affected in the IT strategy-development effort.
- Assessment: Here, the team identifies key business drivers and reviews business capabilities and initiatives. Drivers are events, conditions and decisions outside the realm of IT that affect the IT strategy. This phase may also involve performing a business SWOT analysis to help identify trends to leverage and risks to mitigate. Listing IT metrics can help measure the performance of business strategy done during this phase.
- Current-State IT: This phase involves assessing the current “as-is” case for all business operations and processes. The examination should include the current operations line; services, products and infrastructure; the IT organization’s structure; and what Human Resources re-alignments may be necessary to promote growth. It is important here to understand the current disaster-recovery and business-continuity plans at the enterprise level along with IT practices.
- Target-State IT: In this phase, the strategy team should solidify its understanding of the organization’s future growth plan and business strategy, revisiting the organization’s IT vision, mission and guiding principles if already defined. IT improvement opportunities should be identified with an alignment toward organizational business strategy. The team should also define demand projections covering different techniques for effective and efficient business operations.
- Roadmap: With the other phases in hand, the team can begin to develop an IT strategy roadmap at the executive level and tactical levels. The roadmap should focus on the defined key focus areas and strategic IT pillars. It must also address the IT strategy’s implementation plan in the short, medium and long term, taking into account the prioritization of initiatives, objective descriptions and cost along with key business benefits and success factors.
Best Practices for Developing an Agile IT Strategy
Developing a clear, agile IT strategy is the most important activity in which a CIO can engage to achieve organizational goals and benefits. In summary, here are best practices to develop an agile IT strategy:
- Define the IT strategy at the CIO level
- Involve business stakeholders as part of the definition process
- Always craft a plan that is actionable
- Use common language and teams that are domain-specific and used across the organization
- Every strategy pillar must support organizational goals. Develop a small, select set of goals that drive the organization toward its vision
- Ensure the implementation plan reflects current realities and constraints
- Conduct regular check-ins to ensure the organization is making continual progress toward its goals