Practical Steps to Build a Strategic IT Plan

Practical Steps to Build a Strategic IT Plan

August 25, 2021

Part of a series on Strategic IT Planning & Budgeting

Maybe you’ve been feeling the pain of a reactive break-fix IT approach (and the surprise costs that come with it). Or maybe you feel in the dark about what’s happening with your IT investments, and why you’re not seeing the returns you hoped for. Or maybe it just feels like you’ve never been able to “get it,” and as a result you can’t see eye-to-eye with your IT partner. 

IT problems can manifest in many different ways, but for small and medium-sized businesses, these problems often stem from a lack of a strategic IT plan. Creating that plan can seem daunting at the start, especially for executive decision makers who don’t experience the day-to-day of either their internal IT team or an external managed services provider (MSP).

However, at Mytech we believe every organization can derive value from even a basic strategic IT plan. In this article, we hope to provide a rough sketch of how you can begin forming that strategy for yourself. Keep reading to learn about some simple steps you can take to know where you stand, assign the ownership of risk, and plan your path forward.

Know Where You Stand

Executives and IT teams don’t always speak the same language when it comes to your organization’s needs. As a result, one of the most crucial steps to bridging that gap is defining how your organization operates on a core level. Without that context, many IT teams never plan further ahead than the next service request…which leads to plenty of surprise costs or hiccups.

For instance, cloud storage is often appealing to business owners for data protection and productivity reasons…but not every business is set up to take full advantage of it. In When Cloud Storage Isn’t Better: A Lesson in Alignment, we tell the story of a company that almost crippled their operations with a hasty cloud migration. Before you make a big IT decision, everyone involved needs to know the risks, processes, and outcomes that will be affected.

Define your key business requirements and goals

To prevent these big surprises, each involved team needs to be on the same page, and speaking the same language. What does your organization do? How does it accomplish this work? What tools & assets does it need to function? This includes both technical details like your fiscal year or number of employees, and big-picture concepts like your target customer, Mission Statement, and long-term (10+ years) goal.

This may all sound like “executive talk” to the IT team, but that’s the point: to effectively support your day-to-day operations, the executive team must clearly define the business’s target so the IT team can plan & budget their resources to hit that target.

We list these definitions in a series of simple questions on Mytech’s Strategic Business IT Planning document (available upon request), which we use to understand a new client in order to better support them. By establishing this common ground, and making sure your IT team understands your immediate needs and intentions, you will lay a foundation of shared understanding and information. This foundation will prove invaluable as you begin building your Strategic IT Plan.

Take a Full Inventory

Once you have a shared understanding, it’s time to start counting. Every device on your network is important for something – and comes with associated risks. These risks can be malicious, like a bad actor exploiting an unpatched server. Or they might be accidental, such as an old laptop’s hard drive failing with important data still on it.

Either way, the outcome is still the same: surprise IT costs. If you don’t know what you have, you can’t prepare for what might happen to it. That’s why a proactive IT team or MSP doesn’t just recommend IT purchases; they track every device, and inform you ahead of time when something is coming due for a replacement. At Mytech, we record every device on our clients’ networks, and we help our clients build a proactive asset & lifecycle management plan to manage their equipment purchases strategically.

Define Your Risk at the Executive Level

Once you’ve figured out what equipment and systems you have, it’s important to identify your organization’s most significant IT risks, and determine who will take responsibility for mitigating them.

Because so many IT risks apply to every business (data loss, fire, theft, operational downtime), risk mitigation is a balancing act. Trying to get the “best,” bleeding-edge solution in every area is a quick way to exhaust your entire budget on diminishing returns. Most organizations don’t need the “best” solution in every area; they need the solutions that are best for their needs and risks. But who determines those needs and risks?

Although your IT partner seems like the logical IT decision-maker, this topic is actually an organizational risk issue, far above most IT teams’ pay grades. Your executives are responsible for taking a high-level view of the organization, making risk decisions, and being accountable for those decisions. That responsibility doesn’t change just because technology is involved. Your IT partner can explain or predict the outcome of a storage disaster, but only your executive team can balance the risk of those losses against the investments necessary to mitigate them.

Your IT team should be a voice at the table…but not the actual decision-maker. By collaborating with your IT partner and involving them in the risk conversation, instead of dumping the decision on them entirely, you’ll be able to establish expectations for both yourself and your IT partner as you move forward.

Plan Your Path Forward

Even with these initial steps, you’ve already begun to discuss your IT in a more strategic way. It’s now time to look at a broader picture of your organization: not just what you need right now to succeed, but also what you’ll need as your IT needs evolve in the months and years to come.

And your IT needs will evolve. Technology is ever-changing: even if you don’t want the most bleeding-edge solutions available, every modern system requires regular upkeep to maintain your productivity and prevent disruptions. By talking through your organization’s goals and initiatives, you’ll give your IT team a clear picture of everything you’re trying to accomplish, so they can ensure that your IT is an amplifier to that work, rather than a hindrance!

Define Your Targets

Because so much of IT is based around investing in equipment and solutions that will last 3-5 years at a time, knowing an organization’s near-future goals is especially crucial to supporting it. Many disconnects happen because IT teams simply don’t know what the organization wants: the IT team might be willing to make decisions on their own, but those decisions may not fit the long-term direction of the entire business.

When executives and IT fail to collaborate in this way, the IT team can wind up Budgeting Blind, without full understanding of the organization’s executive-level goals. IT teams often live in the here-and-now, by necessity: they’re focused on putting out today’s tech fires, and they might not think they have time to stop and make future plans about the next 2-3 years. Pushing them beyond that short-term thinking – and involving the executive team in the decision-making process – can result in more targeted, effective solutions.

Identify Your Initiatives

In addition to your goals, your IT team also needs to know your short-term, 1-year plans. What big changes will happen to the organization in the upcoming year? How many new staff do you plan to hire? Will you be buying new equipment, moving to a new location, or even making an acquisition? Although this information is often sensitive, it impacts your organization’s IT needs in a big way.

While you don’t have to provide all the minutiae, giving the IT team a rough idea of what prepare for over the next 12-18 months can help them to budget effectively and prepare for big changes. Of course, plans frequently change and your IT needs might change accordingly, but at the very least, the IT team will be able to expect the change before it comes, and this preparation can dramatically reduce both surprise costs and organizational risk.

Seek Intentionality in Your IT Solutions

Although these discussions are a lot of up-front work, the benefits are well worth the time investment. A codified IT strategy will make things easier in the long run, for both your executives and your IT team! Mytech’s strategic IT planning goes much deeper than these first few steps, but even these will help you build a shared base of understanding and cooperation.

If you’ve never had a conversation like this with your IT partner, it might be a good idea to start small, by asking them a few of these questions.

Or if you need to make an even bigger change, it might be time to seek a more strategic partnership. With over 20 years of Making IT Easy for our clients, Mytech has developed a proven IT strategy that won’t just solve today’s headaches – it can also help you achieve four times more value and productivity from your IT investments.

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