Strategic IT Planning: Making the Most of Limited (and Valuable!) Resources

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February 2011
In This Issue:

"Thinking in a disciplined fashion about how your IT shop is going to deploy the resources it owns and those it seeks to control is not only a very difficult conceptual exercise, but one that often feels like a waste of time."

-- Gabriele Piccoli, Editor

The act of creating, developing, and then following through on a well-thought-out strategy for IS success does not just happen overnight. I discuss a lot of IS cases studies with a variety of audiences, and there are plenty of times someone in the audience will ask, "What were they thinking?!" -- and plenty of times, when the question is not raised, it is evident in the audience's collective mind. The fact is that thinking in a disciplined fashion about how your IT shop is going to deploy the resources it owns and those it seeks to control is not only a very difficult conceptual exercise, but one that often feels like a waste of time -- a valuable resource in and of itself!

In the specific case of the IS strategy, not only is it already difficult to get clarity about the objectives (the elusive alignment quest), but the interdependence of people (and their varying attitudes and competencies), technologies (with the dizzying pace of their evolution), and existing organizational structures must all be thought about as part of the planning process. That's a lot to consider -- and constantly reconsider as conditions change. Strategic IT planning is hardly an emerging item on the executive's agenda. However, given its important and recurrent appearance on the CIO's top agenda items, it is the kind topic that we at Cutter Benchmark Review believe is important to revisit from time to time. More specifically, in this issue of CBR, we set out to examine the ways in which strategic IT planning influences the value that IT delivers to the organization, as well as the degree to which the planning process is perceived to affect organizational outcomes and results. With this focus, we can both benchmark the planning process itself and, at the same time, tackle the question of its relationship to IT value. Given the current and ongoing economic struggles facing businesses both large and small around the world, this seemed like an excellent time to discuss the value of strategic IT planning.

On the academic side, we have the thoughtful expertise of Dorothy Leidner, the Randall W. and Sandra Ferguson Professor of IS and Director of the IS PhD program at Baylor University (USA). Those of you who have been following CBR over the last few years already know Dorothy from the 2006 issue on knowledge management (Vol. 6, No. 3) and the 2010 issue on managing IT during a crisis (Vol. 10, No. 2). Aside from being a highly accomplished academic and a world-recognized expert on knowledge management practices and CIO success, Dorothy is also an editorial board member and frequent author of MIS Quarterly (MISQ), a journal devoted to bridging the gap between IS academia and practice. Her work in MISQ centers on CIO leadership and decision making. Dorothy's background and research make her perfectly suited to help us think critically about the benefits of strategic IS planning, grounding the survey results in her research work. Complementing Dorothy's view from the practice side is Bob Benson. Bob has been working in IT for more than 40 years with a focus today on assisting organizations in understanding the business value of IT, strategic and financial IT management, strategic IT planning, effective IT application development, and IT governance. He is a Fellow with Cutter Consortium's Business-IT Strategies and Government & Public Sector practices and is a prolific writer for Cutter. Bob contributes to our yearly issue on IT budgets and the budgeting process, including governance concerns. Bob's years of experience and benchmarking on the issues surrounding IS strategy allow him a unique perspective that directly comes to bear in this issue.

Dorothy begins her piece by categorizing the different archetypes of IS strategies, providing clear definitions of each style and the effects that each of these different styles has on organizational performance. Her breakdown of the IS innovator strategy, the IS conservative strategy, and the IS undefined strategy represent a good basis for evaluating the survey results, particularly as they pertain to the impact and ultimate effectiveness of each of these strategies. Moving on to the different characteristics of IS strategy, discussing planning processes in terms of strategy types, Dorothy gives a clear overview and interpretation of the reasons behind the responses. She concludes with some important takeaways as well as suggestions and recommendations that are immediately usable.

Presented in a very approachable Q&A style, Bob's article is not limited by the survey results. While he does a good job of commenting on them, Bob also brings to bear results from other Cutter surveys he has been involved in. His piece is peppered with a host of insightful observations, providing us with an overview of the core issues and sticking points that surround strategic IT planning and the planning process. Of particular relevance is Bob's discussion of whether IT -- and, in particular, strategic IT planning -- delivers value in the eyes of current IT and business professionals. This analysis leads to some tangible guidelines and implementable ideas. As you consider the value of strategic planning within the IT shop at your organization, you will find Bob's honest and no-nonsense observations instrumental to further your own thinking.

Writing an issue about a staple topic for the profession is always a task that we approach with a bit of apprehension. How revolutionarily insightful can you be, after all? Well, while I doubt you will find this issue of CBR revolutionizes your thinking, I believe that the blend of confirmatory evidence for what we know and the novel insight of our authors will prove stimulating for you ... and that, for us, is success.

ABOUT THE EDITOR

In this issue of CBR, we set out to examine the ways in which strategic IT planning influences the value that IT delivers to the organization, as well as the degree to which the planning process is perceived to affect organizational outcomes and results. With this focus, we can both benchmark the planning process itself and, at the same time, tackle the question of its relationship to IT value. Given the current and ongoing economic struggles facing businesses both large and small around the world, this seemed like an excellent time to discuss the value of strategic IT planning.