The importance of a Strategic Plan for technology

There are typically a few ways businesses approach technology change. The first is the reactive approach – wait until something breaks and then replace it. Another way is just replacing like for like at the end of a hardware warranty period – that server is done, roll in another host and move your virtual machines over! If a business has transitioned most of their tech to cloud based systems, it can now be the sad case of just letting technology remain constant. With no hard and fast warranty dates to worry about for your hardware, and ongoing software updates rolling out ‘automagically’, things often just continue without change. 

There’s a better approach though – review and write a strategic plan for the technology in your business. I’ve been a big promoter of Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” for many years now. Habit #2 – “Begin with the end in mind” fits perfectly here, or a more current buzz phrase these days is ‘reverse engineering’. This relates to all facets of your business, but none more so than technology in my opinion. A strategic plan sets the framework for tech decisions to be made and keeps the ‘bean counters’, IT team and shareholders happy with a budget too.  

Here’s my approach to reviewing technology and writing a technology strategy for a business:

Phase 1. Take a snapshot of your business, how does it look today? Yes, you need to identify all your technology in the form of hardware, applications, current projects and issues. But make sure you spend time with the shareholders to strip right back to the basics too, don’t just address technology. What is your business all about and what makes it successful? What’s happening in your industry? What is your competition doing? What are your customers demanding? How do your business goals align with these things? This will then help you set the course for your strategic technology plan. 

Phase 2. Interview your team – and I’m not just talking about your executive team. Have you ever seen the show “Undercover Boss” where a CEO disguises themselves and heads into the trenches of their business to discover what’s really going on? Speak with your Accounts Team not just the CFO, Salespeople not just the Sales Manager, Warehouse Staff not just your Operations Manager. In my experience, you will learn amazing things about how your business ‘ACTUALLY’ uses technology taking this approach. Bottlenecks in business processes and wasted money to be discovered here! 

Phase 3. Now take all the information you have collated and spend time analysing and researching recommendations that fit with the goals and direction of your business (discovered in Phase 1). I find this phase is the one which tends to consume the most amount of time, but it’s very important to get this part right – this is where the magic happens. Recommendations should be presented in a road-map or timeline, from immediate action to future projects. 

Phase 4. Finally, present your plan and revise. If the plan you present is perfect for your business off the bat, you’re either far better than I am, or you aren’t really getting a lot of engagement in this process from your colleagues. Your strategic technology plan should be met with healthy debate from business leaders, and revisions agreed upon before finalising and keeping close by for continual reference.  

Personally, I don’t like looking past 2 years when it comes to a strategic plan, or 3 for a larger less agile company. 2-3 years is a long time in the technology game. Whilst a strategic plan sets a framework, it’s important to recognise that a technology strategy can, and most probably will change over time. This can be due to major advancements in technology, fluctuations in the economy, or a change to the business itself. Therefore, it’s important to review your plan annually, or when any major change occurs.