Towards an Effective IT Strategy

By definition, every organization has an IT strategy. Some have it clearly articulated and the others are working with one without knowing it.

The question is: Is the IT strategy producing results?

You can also ask the same question a different way: What must you do to make IT strategy produce results? Or, perhaps, what is wrong with this IT strategy?

The strength of an IT strategy does not come from it being articulated, per se, but, rather, lies along its entire lifecycle — from the “vision” to the underlying policies, framework, process design, including management and control mechanisms, through to execution.

Even so, each of these items must be carefully thought through and designed.

Vision, principles and policies set the direction for the strategy. They are the first step to designing and defining a strategy but, more importantly, they reflect the stakeholders’ beliefs. It is critical that the strategy evolve from these beliefs, otherwise execution will be half-hearted.

It is also absolutely essential to realize that stakeholders include both the designers and the executers of this strategy.

A framework provides a strategy with structure. It enables rapid, repeatable results by ensuring that we have a complete picture and make the key connections. Frameworks might not guarantee success, but they sure help sustain and repeat it.

Sometimes, they can also salvage a floundering effort by identifying the root cause of failure. Without a framework, success or failure are a black box. More often than not, success comes from tinkering with an initial failure. Frameworks are invaluable in this tinkering.

Sometimes we forget that IT strategy is a process not a point-in-time event. Like any other process, the IT strategy process must also be designed and have an “owner.”

It must also be integrated with other processes such as budget, portfolio rationalization, enterprise architecture planning and systems implementation. It must also be managed using clearly defined metrics and mechanisms.

Execution makes all the difference between success and failure. An IT strategy might look good on paper, however, implementation is where the rubber meets the road. It’s the first time we know, for sure, if things are working as planned.

As much as strategy drives execution, the reverse is also equally true. A good IT strategy is one that is built factoring in practical considerations or execution constraints. Also, on an ongoing basis, real data from execution must be used to fine tune strategy.