Here’s a riddle: What is it that almost every organization believes it needs, many organizations have, and few organizations use? The answer is an IT strategy.

CEOs and CFOs task new CIOs and old CIOs alike with developing an IT strategy. But despite the millions of dollars, pounds, euros, and yen spent on creating IT strategy every year, few of these strategies will be put to effective use. The IT strategy is the foundation upon which CIOs communicate the value of IT across the enterprise. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, only 18% of organizations have IT teams that communicate the value of IT effectively.
And one of the most common questions I receive from clients since publishing the Business Technology Strategic Planning Playbook is “Do you have a plan template we can use?” At last I can answer, “Yes – here it is!”

What differentiates a good business technology strategy?

The ideal BT strategy is one that clearly connects technology spending with achieving the goals of the enterprise. In developing any strategy, it is important to begin with a deep understanding of the business vision, mission, values, and goals. Effective business technology strategy must be anchored in the business goals since the strategy effectively sets out the path to achieve the goals – the BT strategy template clearly presents the choices being made in technology direction for the organization and makes it easy to see how these choices will help the organization achieve the goals.

A good strategy is one that is widely understood and consistently applied toward achieving the goals of the enterprise. The “strategy document” represents a challenge for IT as it must serve as both a marketing document to be shared with non-IT leaders and also as a set of practical guidelines for IT professionals. For this reason, Forrester recommends creating at least two documents: First the BT strategic plan – think of this as the brand marketing brochure for IT – it clearly lays out how IT will bring value to the enterprise and how this value will be measured; second, the IT operational plan – this sets out the choices IT leaders must make in order to effectively implement the BT strategy.

In 2012 Forrester assembled the best components from the many strategies reviewed over the years and, in conjunction with Forrester Leadership Boards CIO members, identified the key contents for an effective BT and IT strategy.

Business Technology Strategy elements must walk the reader/listener through the strategy in logical steps beginning with business goals and ending with a flexible technology roadmap that lays out the timing of the strategy implementation. This strategic plan must continuously evolve with the changing needs of the business – as such it must be less of a fixed investment plan for the next X years and more a set of strategic guidelines to help shape future technology decisions. The essential elements of the business technology strategic plan include:

  • The executive summary. This one slide (or page) summarizes the essence of the strategy in a succinct form. It should be possible for someone to read the executive summary and have a clear understanding of what the rest of the document will communicate. If the document is a strategy proposal, summarize the business goals and the high-level strategies recommended to achieve them. If the document is a presentation of the choices that have already been made, then it’s important to set out why these choices were made, including the expected business impact.
  • The business vision, mission, and values. After the executive summary, comes the strategy document itself. Just as we did in the summary, begin with the things that are important to the entire organization. By beginning with business vision, mission, and values you remind everyone that the purpose of this strategy is to achieve these things – nothing else.
  • The business goals and assumptions. If you’re lucky, your organization has clearly defined business goals. If not, you will be stating the assumptions you have made around business goals for the next one to five years. Everything that follows in the strategy document connects back to these business goals and assumptions.
  • A core structure tailored to your business. Although every strategy is unique, pick from these common elements of business technology strategies:
    • Major market drivers and economic/market trends with expected business impacts.
    • People and demographic trends with expected business impact.
    • Business and market trends with expected business impact.
    • Geopolitical trends with expected business impact.
    • Emerging technology trends with expected business impact.
    • PEST Analysis (Political, economic, social, and technological).
    • SWOT Analysis (organizational and external environment and competition).
    • Business Capabilities (highest level capability map).
      • Identified strategic capabilities with an assessment of each (Green/Yellow/Red).
    • Divisional goals (1-5 years).
      • Individual Divisional Capabilities.
    • Identified strategic capabilities with an assessment of each (Green/Yellow/Red).
    • Business strategies to achieve goals.
    • Changes in business capabilities.
    • Assumptions.
    • Investments in people, process, and technology.
    • Business technology roadmap.
    • Scenario plans.
    • Impact on strategies for different scenarios.

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