Keith Chappell
Keith Chappell

IT strategic planning is probably the most important thing you will do as an IT leader. But what makes a good strategy? Of all the IT strategies I’ve seen, best ones have these three qualities.

One, clarity. A vague IT strategy is no use to anyone because it is not helpful in making choices. For example, one might say “our goal is to increase revenue,” or “we must beat the competition.” These are statements that nobody would disagree with and that justifies any investment. But that’s the problem. If anyone can justify any investment under it, then it’s an IT strategy in name only. If you have clarity, your strategic statements can’t be misinterpreted to allow your team to do anything under that strategy. 

The IT strategy must also be clear about how IT is supporting the business. When IT becomes detached from the business, IT strategies tend to become very technology-centric. For instance, an IT Strategy might state “we’re a Windows shop,” or “we believe in virtualizing and consolidating our infrastructure, or “we believe in agile development.” It might sound impressive, but it doesn’t say what you’re doing for the business.

Two, focus. Nobody can do everything, so IT leaders will need to focus the team on a few key priorities. If you have too long a list, your team will get confused with conflicts and tradeoffs between the many imperatives, and you’re going to get distracted. Focus is also critical because you don’t have unlimited resources. The strategy should provide clear guidance regarding how you’re going to concentrate your resources to accomplish these key objectives. This is a key hallmark of a strong strategy.

Three, it helps an organization decide what not to do. With clarity and focus, a good IT strategy should empower the company and the IT team to say no to investments and projects that don’t contribute to the achievement of your strategic objectives. For example, if your strategy is to take an integrated approach to customer relationship management and avoid, this provides guidance to the company to avoid standalone CRM applications without proper integration, and they should be able to say no to anything that appears disconnected.

Every key strategy point is a distinct choice that will guide decision making in the future, especially with regard to rejecting things that don’t fit that particular strategy. If you can’t help people say no, then you can’t help people focus on what they work on, and your strategy will be ineffective. 

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Keith Chappell
Managing Principal

Keith is a managing principal and strategy expert at Wavestone US. For over a decade, he led corporate strategy organizations and professional services business units at major global technology corporations, including Unisys and Lucent Technologies.

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