Building a robust IT strategy in support of the organization's goals is the best first step towards positioning yourself, and your team, for success. In his latest guest blog, Bentley University VP & CIO, Bob Wittstein, provides tips to help you get started developing an IT strategy.

While being a Chief Information Officer (CIO) is probably the most fun you can have and still get paid, let’s face it…it is a hard job. Our profession has not been around since the Renaissance, and with the exception of some broad frameworks, lacks the structure found in some older professions. 

Combine that with the pace of change in technology (making it difficult to be an expert), the high cost of technology, the gap between the supply and demand for talent, and attacks by cybercriminals, and it is easy to comprehend why this is the toughest job we'll ever love. 

How can we mitigate some of the chaos and face these challenges in a methodical way that leads to success in the eyes of your senior leadership and peers? Approaching the CIO position as a user, building a strong team, implementing Information Technology (IT) governance, following a robust framework for IT compliance and having a strong cybersecurity program are all key pieces to solving this puzzle. 

But the true key to success is building a robust, industry-focused IT strategy in support of your organization's overall strategy. In a CIO job description, this is usually the first requirement listed. Without this, your organization will not understand what you do, why you do it, how it will improve your company’s position in your industry; and therefore, it is unlikely you will get the resources you need to be successful. 

Building an IT strategy is no small undertaking. It can take upwards of a year to have a polished document to share. But a polished document is not really the objective. The true objective is to identify those projects that align with your organization’s strategy and goals and that your peers can buy into. 

Drawing from multiple experiences as CIO at different employers in different industries, here is my quickstart guide to developing an IT strategy. 

1. Start with assessment.

Developing your IT strategy starts with the announcement that you are going to conduct a 90-day assessment. This will normally take place when you first come into a new CIO role, but it can happen at any inflection point in the history of IT at your organization. The easiest way to do this is to conduct a SWOT analysis to uncover the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats for the industry, your company or organization, and for the technology division (IT department). 

Input for this can come from formal sources like Gartner and Forrester but, just as importantly, it comes from less formal sources. While I used data from Gartner and from Educause as the CIO of Bentley University, I also took advantage of the wealth of knowledge that exists in the heads of faculty, students and staff to learn about what they liked and disliked about the current state of IT at Bentley. I also talked to my peers with whom I can routinely benchmark most ideas. After about 50 one-hour meetings, I was hearing a lot of recurring ideas and decided that I had what I needed, and could then go on to the next step. 

2. Identify the themes.

Next, it is time to clean up the SWOT analysis. Take the anecdotal information collected from your colleagues and group it into themes that are actionable and that align with the broader trends (whether they are weaknesses, opportunities and threats) that were uncovered through your formal research. Keep in mind that you are doing this work by area. In my case, this would include topics like applications, cybersecurity, infrastructure and networks, academic technology and the library. This is where the fun begins. What are the latest trends in IT and how can these trends address the thematic opportunities that you have identified? What IT projects will therefore further your overall organization’s strategy? This can also include traditional IT solutions, but be sure to think ahead since your goal is to have a sustainable strategy in an environment of changing technology.

3. Group projects into a strategic framework.

Imagine a single page with foundational work at the bottom, common platforms in the middle and those initiatives that your users will recognize at the top. The top initiatives are organized by no more than three broad business areas. From my manufacturing days, this could include sales, internal efficiency and market changers. In higher education, I am using teaching and learning, research and scholarship, and student services and administration. This demonstrates that you are considering the entire organization…something for everyone. The most important aspect of the initiatives listed in your strategic framework is that they solve for the gap between where your organization (both overall and IT) is today and where you want to take it in order to face the threats and realize the opportunities. 

4. Socialize your IT strategy.

You now have the most critical part of your strategy and it did not take a year to get to this point. Sadly though, a great strategy that stays quiet is like having no strategy at all. So, market your strategy. Talk about it at every opportunity. Incorporate your one-page strategic framework into every presentation at every level, then explain it and dissect it for your audiences. Assuming your strategy is a good one and that it will move the needle for your organization, sell it to your peers and your Board so that you can get the resources needed to execute. This is probably the type of strategic investment they were looking for when you were hired. 

Of course, you may not always get the resources that you desire since IT is not the only important investment that organizations need to make. You may need to decide what to stop doing since much of the current work may not be making enough of a difference. One example might include outsourcing work that goes away under a cloud strategy when you have employee turnover. 

5. Build a technology roadmap.

Build a roadmap based on the funding level and resources that you have or receive. The roadmap includes all of the actionable work described in the IT strategy laid out on a schedule. It includes a rough estimate of the cost of each project and the resources required from both IT and the business units affected. This creates a cost/resource profile over time that may warrant speeding up or slowing down your execution plan, depending on your organization’s budget and capacity for change. Then execute like your life depends on it! Having a great strategy is just half the battle. Having the team, the energy, the drive and the fortitude to execute will bring your strategy to life. 

6. Publish the IT strategy.

Take the time to publish and print a well-designed, polished version of your IT strategy. Use this document to communicate its importance to all stakeholders, and the central role it has in determining what gets invested in and worked on.

If you create and execute upon a robust strategy, you will address all the challenges mentioned earlier. You will have structure, a plan, buy-in, a roadmap, you will be the expert in your strategy and in your business and …you will be having fun while making a lasting positive impact on your organization and industry!

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