A few years ago, I wrote a series of stories on IT strategy development. It was based on my experience in developing technology strategies across several different businesses. But since then, I think there have been some big changes and thought a quick update would be worthwhile.
If you want to look back at the original series, here are the four parts
- Strategic Planning for IT: Business Plans
- Strategic Planning for IT: Setting Objectives
- Strategic Planning for IT: Delivery
- Strategic Planning for IT: Filling In The Plan
Since I wrote the original four parts, two significant things have changed. We now operate in a far more dynamic world. And cloud technologies have significantly matured.
So, what would I change from my thoughts in 2013?
The core of the strategy was a delivery “stack”. One of the big challenges I faced was educating the business as to what I could deliver and what I couldn’t deliver. For example, I could deliver a reliable network but I couldn’t choose what applications teachers should use to deliver learning outcomes.
My aim was to create an operating environment that was as platform and application agnostic as possible. While many schools at the time were entrenched in particular software ecosystems - Microsoft was the big one as they offered such attractive pricing to education - I could see device choice was becoming a big deal.
What I didn’t foresee back then was how quickly cloud services would evolve.
What would I do today?
I think my infrastructure planning methodology from that time is pretty solid although I suspect I would be avoiding on-prem systems as much as possible. The only data I would keep on-prem would be staff email and student records. And that wouldn’t be because of specific risks associated with cloud services. That would be in order to ensure the peace of mind of what was, at the the time, a very risk averse and conservative management team.
My focus on security would be far greater as well.
Aside from having a student population that meant I had a thousand hackers inside my firewall, I see the challenges external threats as much greater. Schools hold lots of personal and payment information. I’d spend a lot more time on understanding exactly what data I have and designing and executing a data protection plan as part of my broader strategy.
I’d also fight for more resources for education. Not just specific one-off initiatives but an ongoing plan for my team and for the rest of the organisation.
The most difficult meetings I had, when developing strategic plans, was the to and fro of me asking “What do you want?” and having people respond with “What can you do?”. Many of the people I worked with struggled to see more than a few months ahead and lacked the capacity, or perhaps opportunity, to take a step back and consider what they would like their business to look like in a couple of year’s time.
Today is important for tomorrow
When I started my last IT management role, it was a three month contract where I was meant to develop an IT strategy. I couldn’t start that task as systems were too unreliable. It was impossible to engage the business on a plan for the future when they couldn’t connect to the network or log-in today.
That meant some hard decisions and some short term pain. We executed an upgrade plan on every computer, changes to how the network was logically organised, and a number of configuration changes. Not all of those were met with glee!
But after some teething issues - that lasted through that entire contract period - we took some time to build good will with the business. Then we were able to engage the business in some longer-term planning. But that took the best part of a year - my three months ended up becoming three years.
Unless you have things ticking over nicely today, it’s very hard to engage people in the future.