If the best-laid plans oft go astray, can we expect any better of plans that try to predict a company's growth, competitive landscape, work processes and technology requirements three to five years from now? Those are the ambitious goals of IT strategic plans - plans that are frequently threatened with obsolescence by technology changes and economic upheaval before the ink even dries.
Many CIOs apparently have responded to those forces of chaos by throwing in the towel on strategic planning: A 2002 Cutter Consortium survey found that 39 percent of respondents had no formal IT strategy at all. But in fact, chaotic times make it more necessary than ever for the CIO to routinely take a strategic view. "Everything's been stable and good here, but we realized that we'd been putting off a lot of major [IT] decisions. You have to avoid major [problems] by looking ahead," says Malcolm Fields, CIO of Hon Industries, a $1.8 billion office furniture and hearth products manufacturer in Muscatine, Iowa. Fields, Hon's first CIO, is in the midst of writing his company's first-ever IT strategic plan. Prior to his appointment, he says, "we just never had anyone far enough out of the trees to see the forest."
It's the looking ahead part that makes planning strategic. All IT strategic-planning primers start with the same instruction: Imagine the desired future state of the company. With that vision, CIOs can then analyze the present state, compare the two to identify gaps, and start to draw a road map for closing those gaps and getting the company to the goal. Project prioritization, risk analysis, and an analysis of the likelihood of changes in the industry and technology are also well-established basics in the strategic-planning process. However, that simple-sounding recipe masks some of the complexities and finer points of the strategic-planning process. What follows is a list of five common errors in the IT strategic-planning process, and tips from CIOs on evading those land mines and creating a plan that works.
1 Don't Start with the Business Plan
(Do Start Before the Business Plan)