Currently, no one needs to be persuaded that the integration of business with IT achievements is necessary and may yield great results both in regard to the adaptation of advanced cloud services in the infrastructure of large companies, and in regard to the local automation of even the most basic tasks in smaller companies.
However, for decades, such adaptation in many organisations was performed relatively intuitively or was based on accepting dedicated offers, which are not always offering best tailored to the requirements of a given company, available on the market.
Therefore, people began to realise the necessity of introducing comprehensive documentation, that would enable conscious and planned use of the technological achievements by companies. The plan, encompassing the use of these achievements, in a way that would benefit the profile and development direction of a particular organisation to the best of possibility, is called IT strategy. There is no way to determine one, established model of developing such a strategy, as its essence is primarily the adaptation to current needs, industries and goals. In result, while IT strategy refers to the same, usually well available resources, and we are speaking both of software, hardware, and external provider services, the strategy may differ significantly, depending on the organisation in which it was developed. Even if it was developed by companies operating within the same industry, on the same market. However, that does not mean, that one cannot sketch out a general model and elements, that every IT strategy should have.
What is IT strategy?
As previously mentioned, IT strategy is a document developed by an organisation in order to determine the optimal profile of using IT resources. Therefore, it is a plan, the initial point of which should be the definition of the current status, particularly in terms of already used resources. An overview of the entire organisation is required, and for that, in most cases, the direct involvement of the entire executive level is necessary. That is why, specialised teams are commissioned for the task, that will work under the CIO’s watchful eye. Cooperation with the representatives of higher management levels is, in all agreement, considered by experts to be the necessary condition for developing an effective IT strategy.
It would be advisable to demonstrate the requirement with an example. The reason for such situation is, e.g. finance control – in most cases, the strategy will positively influence the organisation’s condition, not by blind buyouts of an increasing amount Amazon and Microsoft portfolios, but by such optimisation of the current IT infrastructure, so that it would generate the least cost. No doubt, that the temptation of using the latest, most advanced services, which are widely talked about at developer conferences and in corridors of industry’s conferences, is enormous, but their capabilities usually outgrow the actual needs of an organisation. Therefore, the strategy should not assume the use of the most appealing IT tools, but tools that cost and functionality-wise will realise particular tasks. The selections, being an element of a well developed IT strategy, should be determined by needs and goals, rather than a fondness of technological novelties or temporary trends.
How to prepare an IT strategy?
Exactly – goals. As was already mentioned, IT strategy should arise from the analysis of the current situation, but it is a plan, that is to lead an organisation towards a particular goal, in an organised, systemic way. Therefore, it cannot focus solely on constatations and the optimisation of IT infrastructure expenditures, but also support the realisation of ambitions. However, here, the IT strategy should assume a secondary position or even a support one. The use of IT resources is not a goal of its own, but a method of maximising efficiency in achieving business goals, e.g. assuming a particular position in a given portion of the market, income increase, etc. In result, IT strategy should remain in strict synergy with the general business strategy of an organisation. The CIO and the team managed, should primarily analyse the goals of the company, then identify its used resources, and finally develop such a model of action, so that IT would serve the realisation of these goals, without overburdening other resources.
As demonstrated, there is no way to achieve such a profound analysis of the status and the goals and to bend accessible IT resources to these needs, without the involvement of the organisation’s management. However, that is not the end – after developing a sketch of the strategy resulting from general business goals of the company, they must be further consulted with the middle-level management. This way we may confront both views, allowing to evade a situation that happens often, where, in confrontation with the practice of implementation on lower levels, the strategy or policy, developed at high organisational levels, turns out to be impractical, unintuitive, and lands on a shelf as a strictly theoretical creation. A good practice is to repeat the consultation of the validity of the elements included in the IT strategy, on different levels of the organisation, as long, as a consensus is developed.
IT strategy development and risk management
One should not forget, that the strategy of an optimal implementation of technological achievements for the realisation of organisation’s ambitions, is a document which has strictly defined, practical application, therefore, it must focus on goals and useful resources, and not wishful thinking. In result, the strategy should also include such elements, as the identification of strengths, but also weaknesses and flaws of existing solutions. Gathering end-users’ feedback on software, hardware, and IT services that are already provided proves useful for this purpose. Risk analysis and effective risk management are no less an important element of a properly developed IT strategy. Therefore, IT strategy should include not only the outline of estimated risk (e.g. the possibility of an unexpected increase of the lease of a particular cloud service), but also methods to minimise it.
As was presented, IT strategy development is a multi-phase process, and the broader the range of operations of the company is covered by the document, the better it will translate to the possibility of implementing it in practice, and eventually, to its efficiency. One cannot forget, that IT solutions are present in most organisations on every or almost every level of organisation. In result, working on a strategy should be a common effort and – realising business goals of the whole – respond to the needs of each and every one. We have yet one important issue to address – the basis of an efficient realisation of an IT strategy is a solid IT operations department. In case of the presence of any shortcomings – staff, competency, or operational – in this department, one cannot assume, that even the greatest strategy, best tailored to the needs, profile and goals of an organisation, will yield measurable results.