Getting “There” From Here

The IT industry is continuing to evolve. The movement to more outsourcing and use of outside vendors to provide basic infrastructure support is continuing while focusing IT on adding more value to business processes. The challenge for most IT leaders is implementing a new IT strategy that makes business and technological sense while still keeping the current technology working and stable.

In a conversation with a fellow CIO not too long ago, he agreed that the evolution is underway, and he believes that the changes will be positive, but he just couldn’t figure out how to get there from here. Our discussion revolved around how busy he was already with projects that were keeping the wheels on the car going ‘round –never mind changing them. My advice to him was to do it a little bit at a time.

Assuming that you have a technology strategy plan that incorporates the business strategy, planning for every project needs to considering two things: 1) does the project support the business strategy, and 2) how could this project be done by leveraging outside resources for implementation and maintenance.

Projects and Business Strategy

The first part is pretty easy if you have good insight into the business strategy. If you don’t, you’d best get that done before you start any more projects. Without the alignment of business and technology strategies, few projects will ever be considered valuable to more than a few inwardly focused users. Each project summary should start out with a statement of what this project will accomplish for the organization and how will it meet the strategic goals.

This should be developed in concert with the project sponsor. If you don’t have an involved project sponsor, the project is already in trouble and it hasn’t even been approved yet. Make sure that the objectives and deliverables of the project are defined in the context of both the business and technology strategy. Presenting the project to the IT governance body is a lot easier when you can show that the project will further the business goals and bring some value to the organization. Just saying that it’s a cool thing to do won’t cut it in our current cost-conscious environment. I use a one-page project summary that includes:

· Project Mission – What will this project accomplish for the organization and how will it meet the strategic goals?

· Objectives – What are the business objectives that project supports?

· Deliverables – What are the measurable results of this project?

· Constraints – What would have a negative impact on the project success?

· Benefits – What will the business gain from this project?

· Resources – What critical resources are needed (people, dollars, management, etc.)?

· Assumptions – What are the things assumed to be true for this project?

· Decision Points – What are the milestones in the project where the project can be reviewed to ensure that it’s on track and still valid?

Projects and Technology Strategy

This part of project planning can be a bit more difficult, because it sometimes involves making choices based on unfamiliar technologies and/or service providers. Here the goal is to move toward an environment where infrastructure is supported by service experts while at the same time maintaining the business-critical elements of the project in-house. If, for example, you are deploying a new custom software application that will do great things for the business there are several elements of the project that might be outsourced.

You might contract to have some of the programming done by outside vendors, while maintaining project management control in‑house. You could have the servers that the application runs on managed by an outside firm. You might even think about building the entire application on a platform such as the ones provided by, Google, or Amazon. The point is that your technology strategy should be focused on providing business value rather than infrastructure management.

Developing a technology strategy that puts critical elements of technology in the hands of others is a little scary. That kind of strategy requires that you and your team develop a new set of management skills that will insure that you find and manage the right partners. The technology team will have to gain more insight into the company’s business processes and strategy, a greater understanding of the service levels needed, and a better way to perform vendor due diligence investigations.

As a CIO, you’re no longer in charge of technology, but rather of ensuring that everyone in the company can get their job done. The technology has become ubiquitous and, as such, no one notices it’s there until it’s gone.

Mike Scheuerman is an independent consultant with more than 25 years experience in strategic business planning and implementation. His experience from the computer room to the boardroom provides a broad spectrum view of how technology can be integrated with and contributes significantly to business strategy. Mike can be reached at [email protected].