Two ways to build a better IT strategy

Scenario: After driving great improvements in IT efficiency, a Fortune 500 company is now ready to treat data as a true corporate asset and grow beyond its tactical approach to technology planning. The CIO needs to develop strong data governance and data-management capabilities, and, most importantly, a long-term technology strategy. Yet she doesn’t have the skilled staff for this kind of work. What’s the best way to accomplish this part of the plan?

Paul Bergamo
The problem this CIO faces is growing more common as company executives realize that their tactical, cost-cutting moves have neglected data management and longer-term IT strategy. Yet even with limited experience, IT can get this done internally. The key is building out the strategy in the context of business expectations.

In working with a Fortune 100 client recently, I set up a small team of 4-5 business and IT people, along with a few subject-matter experts to fill in the gaps. We drew up a high-level business capabilities map and mapped IT to it. We established five critical priority areas, focusing on simplifying the physical portfolio; driving new IT operational capabilities (to support faster time to market); and specific technology road maps to help transform critical systems and business capabilities.

The core elements of any long-term strategy include current and desired business and technology capabilities; existing gaps; documented directions and priorities; specific industry issues; emerging trends from other industries (and competitors); and current views of the technology portfolio, planned vendor changes and required maintenance. Lastly, an IT strategy must cover business assumptions, risks and costs.

When doing this kind of work internally, CIOs should stay away from elaborate formatting or creating pretty graphics. Stay focused on establishing a strategy your business colleagues will understand-not some complicated IT road map with no direct bearing on them. Every good strategy becomes a tool to educate, inform and establish common IT-business ground.

Jesus Arriaga
I recently worked with a midsized company facing a similar situation. The IT group had tried to organize an internal team to begin developing a strategy but quickly realized it lacked the necessary expertise and was too close to the situation to think outside the box.

The planning team consisted of the typical executive lineup of senior managers. What it was missing was key individuals who worked directly with the various systems and understood the inner workings and challenges of the environment. We reorganized the planning team to include these additional business leads. The team members met individually to talk about three core questions: What’s working well now? What are the current challenges? What are the best opportunities in our current market space and environment?

Next came a series of strategic group discussions to validate and discuss those answers. My job was to facilitate the discussions, challenge some of their ideas and offer suggestions. An objective third party can help by circumventing the usual company politics in which such discussions get mired.

Once all the ideas were hashed out, we had a strategic outline that included priorities and time lines. The plan also identified the additional skill sets needed and provided the CIO with the documentation to support the acquisition of resources. This exercise helped identify the ROI of an additional full-time position and some temporary resources. With the strategy so explicitly detailed, the executive team was now willing to provide the necessary budget increases.

Paul Bergamo is a general partner at NewVantage Partners. Reach him at Jesus Arriaga is president of CIO Strategic Solutions. Reach him at
Read more about data management in CIO’s Data Management Drilldown.

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