I need to convince my directors of the need for a clear IT strategy. What building blocks do I need to put in place to form a medium-term plan which they can understand and back?
Show how the plan supports business objectives
The key is how you engage your directors. If they are to buy into a strategy, you will need to show how it supports business objectives and operational issues such as efficiency, customer relationships and costs.
Do not switch them off by starting with discussions about "IT". To get there, follow these golden rules:
- Review your IT and network infrastructure, how it is applied to business objectives and the total cost of your IT (including hidden operational costs). Assess yourself in relation to the external world.
- Identify where you need to be. Meet directors individually to identify their strategies, priorities and objectives and the barriers they face. Cover a range of topics such as sales, customer experience, employee productivity and security. From this, identify specific areas where IT can have the most impact.
- Map out the improvements that can be made to the IT infrastructure and the changes to the business that would result. Work with directors to prioritise and identify projects, milestones and review points to demonstrate success. Think of yourself as a consultant to each director, supporting them in meeting their objectives. Do not be afraid to ask suppliers for support - they will be eager to help.
Mick Hegarty, general manager, ICT, BT Business
Form a relationship with the board for trust on both sides
First survey your stakeholders for their view of your current IT strategy. This should give you the feedback you need to take to the board with a clear plan.
Next, work with the board to identify their priorities and create projects that enable business transformation. Emphasise the pitfalls of reactive, short-term projects, which could result in complexity and increased costs in the long-term.
You should also focus on building up your strategic in-house capabilities so that you can mix internal projects with external or outsourced suppliers.
Avoid failure by ensuring that quality processes are embedded into your IT strategy and the projects you undertake. Monitor key performance indicators, profit and loss and staff performance.
Continuously educate the board about the progress and impact of IT projects and the potential for future business improvement. On top of this, make sure that project outcomes are visible to the directors through business service level reporting. Forming a close working relationship with the board will ensure that trust is built on both sides - something that is critical to ensure survival in a business environment.
Mike Lucas, regional technology manager, Compuware
Develop ways to cope with an increase in business
Spending money on IT is often seen as a necessary evil rather than an expenditure that can take a business forward. Part of the process of winning over the decision-makers is helping them to see how the business can benefit by planning for the future.
This assumes that the basic building blocks for a stable, reliable and resilient IT system are already in place with areas such as back-up, virus protection, intruder detection, application of updates and disaster recovery.
You can then look at areas that will help the business to grow and develop, such as providing faster and more useful remote access and business information to staff on the road. This can be extended so that key clients and valued suppliers are involved.
You could look to increase online trading or you may just need a way of coping with the increase in business coming through that channel. This may mean a review and changes to the accounts and distribution model and processes. This is not about pushing IT at a problem but about IT delivering the solutions for what the business needs.
Once you can change the perception of why IT is there and how it can help, you are on the way to getting a strategy that can work for your company.
Trevor Lucas, managing director, TAL Computer Services
Find out where better IT will really make a difference
For any IT strategy to be successful it must address a number of key issues:
- What processes and systems already exist?
- Are they disparate or integrated?
- What are the main problems that arise from their use?
- Which of the systems could be changed quickly to overcome problems?
- What would be the major benefits of this?
- Can you ensure buy-in to implement the changes?
You must be able to quantifiably demonstrate that any IT policy will make the business more profitable and provide a better experience for users, customers and suppliers.
For some time PCs have been far more powerful than needed for most office tasks. Networked systems are capable of running sophisticated applications without the need for constant expensive upgrades and any persuasive proposition should recognise the usability of current equipment.
Support is an area that must be addressed and is easily overlooked. What happens if critical systems fail? How is sensitive data stored and protected? How easily can business-critical systems be brought back online?
Communication is vital. How flexible and integrated are the internal systems, accounts, order processing and online systems?
Providing answers to these basic questions will build a compelling argument for the introduction of an effective IT strategy.
Stephen Benson, IT strategist, Business Link
Directors will want to know the return on new projects
Approach the directors and find out what their medium-term goals are for the business. Link the IT goals to these business imperatives and identify a defined theme, such as growing the customer base.
Next, create a cost versus benefit calculation that will show investment in a format the directors will understand. All business decisions are based on return on investment.
Do not feel you have to invest in everything at the outset. Make the most of the IT infrastructure you have and develop it over time. A medium-term IT strategy usually looks at a period of three to five years, so tackle those problems that are easiest to address and deliver the most cost-effective results early on.
Create a reporting process and get one of the directors to input into this. By involving them in the process you are more likely to get a favourable response. If you consult colleagues across the business, you can include them in the final presentation to the directors, showing that the project has cross-company support.
Finally, get a local technology partner involved. Use their skills to support you and give them as much project information as possible early on so that they can add value. Get the partner to present with you so the directors feel confident about the ability of the programme to deliver.
There are bodies which can help small and medium-sized businesses to define their IT strategy. The British Chambers of Commerce, for example, can offer guidelines on its website about developing a strategy.
John Coulthard, head of small business, Microsoft UK