You may not know exactly what an IT strategy is, how to put one in place, or how an IT strategy can transform your business.
But there are probably a few things you do know.
Your IT infrastructure should be performing better, but you’re not sure how.
There are ways to use technology to do business better, but you don’t know what they are.
You feel behind the pack in searching for a solution, and you’re worried about the future of your company if you don’t find one.
An IT strategy is more than a tech stack that allows your business to function on a daily basis. How your IT strategy will take shape depends on your business.
The most important thing to understand about your IT strategy is that it must support the business strategy. For it to do so, your business must have a strategy to begin with.
There’s an old anecdote about a janitor working at NASA. As it’s told, President John F. Kennedy visited NASA’s facilities in 1962. He casually asked a janitor what he did for NASA, and the janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”
Even though he plays a specific part in achieving NASA’s mission, the janitor is aligned with the end goal.
What’s your business strategy? Say it out loud.
If you struggle to find the words, you’re not alone. You might think of it this way:
Your business strategy comprises how you will meet a measurable goal, by meeting a specific audience with your unique value proposition or competitive advantage.
To meet your goal, what areas does your business need to excel in? What do you need to do to excel in these areas?
Or you may simply ask: Where does this business want to be in five years? What will it take to get there?
Once these questions are answered, make sure to communicate your strategy to your IT staff or provider. Then you can start thinking about the technologies and processes it will take to achieve this future state.
“We want to become more profitable” is not a goal. Every business wants to become more profitable.
“We want to become 20% more profitable by expanding into a new market by 2025” is a goal.
Everything in your company either serves the business strategy, or undermines it. Even if something works well, if it isn’t propelling the business toward its end goal, it’s holding it back.
Your business simply can’t be good at everything. It doesn’t need to be. That’s what strategy is: choosing what to be good at and how to be good at it.
To know what it will take for your IT strategy to succeed, it helps to know why so many IT projects fail.
Once you’ve defined your business strategy, your IT strategy sits on top of the path between your goal and where you stand currently. Your IT strategy should make your business better at the areas it needs to excel in to meet its goals.
1. The IT strategy should list the business’s goals and detail how IT will help support those goals.
2. The IT strategy should clarify which specific problems it will focus on solving and account for how those solutions will impact the business. You could take a department-by-department approach here.
3. The IT strategy should explain the approach for helping the business adapt for the future — handling greater business volume, increasing operational efficiency, anticipating new market mandates and regulations, etc.
4. The IT strategy should describe the resources it will take to achieve its goals, in terms of budget, staff, skills, and tools. Don’t underestimate the amount of change management you’ll need to implement a new system, change the culture around those processes, and train your staff to adapt successfully.
5. The IT strategy should prioritize the projects that will ultimately bring the future to life. These projects should come with tangible goals, timelines, requirements, and deliverables. It should also outline how these projects will be managed.
To be clear, big data, automation, ERP systems, artificial intelligence, machine learning — these are not strategies. They are tactics. Don’t get so swept up in what’s trending in the marketplace that you forget to ask how these powerful tools apply to your business.
Though many C-level executives have grand visions about digital transformation, they usually need less than they think. Low-hanging strategic fruit like standardizing data or consolidating workflow processes can be enough to completely change the game for the business.
This is especially true of decades-old businesses with outdated legacy systems or a patchwork of single-point solutions. Sometimes these systems are so old that new tools won’t support or integrate with them, thus forcing a hard deadline for change.
That’s a tough position to be in. In the time it takes to develop a strategy, you could be making headway on implementing your new system. But if you neglect to consider, “What are we actually trying to achieve?” then the results of your new system will fall short of anything resembling “digital transformation.”
Which is why it’s crucial to develop your IT strategy before you’re forced to, and to bring other leaders in the business into the conversation.
It’s easy to get paralyzed by the dizzying array of options before you.
Should you adopt a new ERP software? Hire a vCIO or IT consultant?
Before adding anything new, it’s best to assess what you have.
What competencies do you currently have on your in-house bench? Which ones are you outsourcing? What skills will you need for the business to thrive in its future state, or in your industry’s future environment?
What parts of your workflow are done manually? Which parts are most prone to error? Which ones are costing the most money?
What tools are you using? How are they working or not working? What will your business need to adapt and thrive in its next stage of growth? This includes your architecture and the ability of these tools to work with each other.
How does your business collect, analyze, and report its data? How effective are your current data practices at distilling actionable, impactful insights?
How much are you spending on labor, apps, vendors, etc? You might compare your IT spend to other organizations like yours, or to the ROI you initially expected to receive from them. Some of them probably cost you more than you realize.
Once you’ve taken stock of your IT line items, you can evaluate which expenses are underperforming and which are out of alignment with your specific, measurable business objectives. You can assess what changes will be necessary to bring your IT goals into alignment with the business goals.
At Vudu, we call this level-setting.
With a firm grasp of the business’s broader strategy and objectives, as well as a thorough assessment of the state of IT at your business, you can play the what-if game.
Instead of blindly charging ahead, you can calculate ROI, map out the architecture of your future systems, and assess the project management and governance these changes would require.
More importantly, your IT initiatives can take on a proactive, strategic role in the business, rather than a reactive role.
Though IT strategies vary from business to business, any IT strategy lives and dies by its data. Data proves the efficacy of your efforts and the efforts of the business at large.
Make no mistake about it, data is an asset, and it deserves a line on your balance sheet.
But if you’re dying of thirst in an ocean of data, you’re not alone.
It’s difficult to understand how to correlate data to your business priorities, to know what to measure, and how.
At Vudu, we commonly start by looking at the way your business consumes its financial systems—how they are using them and how those realities are driving business decisions. IT and technology can feel quite intangible, especially for C-level leaders without an IT background. Finances helps bring data into a tangible space, tethering data to something real.
From there, financial data can act as a jumping-off point to start assessing other types of data, like behavioral data and operational data.
This gives us the insights we need to quantify what each department does and how to grade that performance. With the right KPIs in place, we can help implement exercises and frameworks that support better performance and goal achievement.
Again, we’re setting specific, quantifiable goals for the entire business, goals that serve the greater strategy.
The real secret to unlock the potential of data is time. More time allows for more data, which leads to greater accuracy in translating the story your data is trying to tell you.
When everything is in the right place — business objectives are well-defined, your IT vision is aligned with the business strategy, your architecture and infrastructure are properly tooled — your IT strategy will not only support the business strategy, but influence it.
The insights you glean from your data and technology may reveal new strategic opportunities, changing the course of the business or sparking true digital transformation.
But that takes time. It takes real data stewardship and a truly elite set of skills and knowledge.
If you’ve begun forming your IT strategy in reaction to a pain point in the business, a catastrophic event like a data breach, or an incoming market mandate or regulation, your team is probably on board with a change in IT strategy.
You might think, “Everyone is behind this initiative, so of course they can handle whatever changes come about.”
This simply isn’t true, especially with legacy systems or tools built in-house. Not only will you have to retrain and skill up your IT staff, but staff outside of IT will have to adapt too.
We all know someone who never installs system updates on their computer. Subconsciously, they feel that whatever improvements the update can offer won’t outweigh the convenience of habit, of knowing where everything is and how it will work.
So, one day they download the latest update after years of putting it off, and it crashes their machine. It’s simply too big a leap. But it wouldn’t have been a problem if they had upgraded iteratively along the way.
The lesson is, the amount of change technology can afford you may exceed the ability of your people to use and sustain it.
As you feel out possibilities for your IT strategy, you might want it all right now. But a massive overhaul might not be realistic.
That’s ok. Any strategy should plan for the next three to five years, at least. On a leadership level, your IT strategy and your business strategy should be an ongoing conversation to keep everyone progressing to the same North Star.
The old IT service model consists of merely preventing disasters and fixing things when they break. An IT vendor of this nature comes in, shoehorns your business into a pre-packaged solution, then they disappear (aside from an ever-increasing monthly invoice).
With the capability and accessibility of transformative technologies reaching unprecedented levels, that model is becoming more obsolete by the day.
Most IT vendors (and many CTOs) simply do not have a mind for strategy. They can’t anticipate the variables of industry regulations, the project management lift, the leveling up of your human capital.
At Vudu, we’re business people first. We dig deep to understand your operations, your strategy, and your goals so we can truly serve as a valuable voice at the leadership table.
We are unparalleled in our ability to transform data into insights, insights into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom.
Not only can we help drive new insights and operational efficiencies, but with over 15 years of experience, our team can help create the connective tissue between IT and the rest of your departments.
Perhaps most importantly, we bring the project management framework of the big 4 to your business. We don’t just make recommendations, we help see them through.
Results look different for every client. For some, the cost of their work product is reduced to a fraction of its original cost. For others, our partnership has allowed them to decrease their decision-making interval from weekly to hourly. For still others, we’ve helped stand up customer facing frameworks quickly, beating the competition to market by weeks or even months.