January is often a time for setting new goals, reflecting on past performance and for future planning. In this fast moving, competitive and forever changing digital age, a strategic review of the technology function is fundamental to the success of an organisation.
For any sized organisation, in any sector, a comprehensive IT Strategy needs to be implemented to ensure the right technologies and resources are in place for the future. This is essential to be able to meet overall business objectives, to be able to cope with the ever-increasing demands on the organisation’s technology platform and to ensure that governance and cyber security risk strategies are all carefully set out and implemented to prevent any kind of business disaster.
At charity and not for profit organisations, and at many small businesses, the responsibility of IT often falls to senior management, who are not always technology experts. Effective planning can then become quite a challenge. IT functions at all organisations are under more pressure than ever to respond to daily challenges, to test, launch and support, and, at the same time, create value.
For any organisation reviewing or setting out their IT Strategy for the first time, the best approach is;
1. Laser-focus on your Business Goals and Vision
IT should enable your organisation to do the work needed to realise its goals. Often IT is seen as separate to this, but they should be highly aligned and in sync. The IT Strategy should directly reference and support the overall organisation’s vision, values and goals as much as possible, posing the question; “What will our IT need to support over the next 3-5 years to help deliver the organisation’s strategy and realise its vision?”.
When it comes to technology, it can be easy to concentrate on products, software and tools and lose sight of the broader requirements of the business users. Investing time to look at what staff want to achieve and how they want to work – remaining completely neutral when it comes to the latest and greatest software, app or product – is priceless in order to then obtain the right solutions to meet the overall goals and vision of the organisation.
2. Carry out an IT Audit
An IT Audit will provide you with the in-depth knowledge required to understand what needs to be developed and improved to be able to deliver improvements in IT across the organisation.
It is wise to undertake a simple Gap Analysis. Speaking to staff, customers and getting feedback about what works well and needs improvement is a logical place to start. An online survey is a good way to get feedback although it’s important to include face-to-face communication where possible.
It may seem obvious but include all areas of your current IT function in this analysis, including current suppliers, software partners and consultants.
Look at all your existing hardware, software licences and IT security – is it sufficient going forward and when are you planning to refresh or update it?
Evaluate Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) – is there a comprehensive framework to control your data and prevent loss?
Smartdesc can carry out an IT Audit or call on our Virtual IT Director service to oversee this for you. Often having someone independent reviewing your situation means that there is a fresh pair of eyes, the approach is non-biased and expert insight and specialist knowledge can be utilised at the same time.
3. Develop an IT Plan
The holy grail for modern IT teams is to be more proactive than reactive. This is no mean feat but developing a plan that will allow for planned checks, maintenance and tools will save countless hours lost to reactive outages and interruptions.
This applies as much to people as it does to processes and tools; for example; how much knowledge is in your senior IT technician’s head versus being documented and cross-trained with colleagues? A good IT Strategy should include time for training, knowledge sharing, shadowing, mentoring and upskilling as well as time to be creative and innovate – keeping abreast of trends, products and new features is essential to keep up with the constant change and opportunities new developments in technology bring.
The IT strategic plan will also define the strategy an organisation will implement to enable its IT infrastructure and overall portfolio to be used by staff to the fullest extent, and output that directly supports the organisation’s core strategy, vision and priorities. The higher the level of competency in use of IT your staff have, generally the more efficiently they will work, so investing in staff IT training is key.
Organisations should ensure that the IT Plan is action-orientated in line with the needs of the organisation and it is advisable to develop a prioritised roadmap for building the technology architecture and outlining the process to meet the long-term technological requirements, as you might do with a programme of projects. This includes time seriously investigating cloud technologies, digital transformation, AI and automation.
4. Team work
Organisations who involve their employees and staff in IT planning and strategy reap rewards in the long term, especially when it comes to implementation and getting ‘buy in’ of the plan and its proposed actions. Setting up an IT Steering Committee including a good cross section of the organisation at multiple levels is something we have done to great success in the past, as it helps everyone feel a part of shaping IT for the benefit of their teams, and reduce the fear of unknown change being “pushed” on them by an invisible IT function!
Effective communication will help to establish the best way to deliver services, building trust with users and helping to encourage positive working relationships across the organisation.
5. Timescales and Budget
Realistic timescales need to be set for your IT Strategy, and it needs annual review and sign off – such is the pace of change. We typically suggest an IT Strategy aims to cover a 3 year period but progress against it checked and reported on a monthly or quarterly basis; it is a living document after all.
Budget is also an area that can be overlooked, leaving Finance staff with unpredictable IT costs that can have the knock-on effect of hampering investment. Time spent during the strategic planning process looking at historical IT spend over the last 1 – 2 years is a simple way to baseline a budget for the forthcoming period, with allowances for some contingency and project work. This baseline can be tracked against actuals over the year and reviewed at year end.
We have numerous templates we can provide to help categorise, track and report on Budget vs Spend, which allows the leadership to focus on the major cost centres and then enter into detailed discussions with 3rd party vendors in the biggest cost areas to leverage savings wherever possible.
Smartdesc are actively engaged supporting several small, medium and large organisations plan, design and deliver on their IT strategy. To find out more about our services please visit the IT Strategy section of our website, or contact us to discuss further.