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Now’s the time to develop, begin an IT improvement plan

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As we move into the new year, developing a technology strategy helps organizations align their technology needs with their business goals.

Planning an information technology strategy is a mutual exercise between business units and IT.

Usually, business and IT projects outnumber the available IT resources, so prioritizing projects becomes a job for a technology steering committee or prioritization committee.

Comparing the benefits of each project, the alignment with organizational objectives and the costs, the committee prioritizes which projects are tackled first and which projects may have to wait. Technology costs usually are only part of a project's costs – consulting, other internal resources, materials costs and opportunity costs all need to be considered.

While most IT projects are in support of a larger business project or strategy, some pure IT projects are required to support the overall organization. Network or cloud infrastructure, email systems, phone systems, anti-virus and other security measures all need to be upgraded from time to time to add functionality and improve reliability.

But, like all projects, the costs and benefits must be considered and projects prioritized with other initiatives.

Beyond the short- and medium-term tactical projects, business leaders need to learn about and consider long-term strategic IT initiatives.

A small portion of each steering committee meeting should be devoted to learning about, demonstrating and considering future technologies. This helps business leaders see what other companies and industries are doing with technology and/or what may be coming in the future.

Listening to customers (especially internal customers) is important.

A periodic visit to business leaders helps to understand their business objectives and technology requirements.

Find out specifically their business objectives and pain points. What isn't working correctly? What isn't working the way they'd like?

Find out about their business plans for the next 12 months. How can technology help meet their goals? What do they need from technology?

Letting everyone know what projects are underway, how they benefit the organization and their cost allows everyone to be on the same page.

With limited finances and resources, projects have to be prioritized to get the biggest bang for your organization's buck. A project list showing costs and benefits helps this prioritization and allows business units to set IT strategies.

This doesn't mean planning by committee and a free-for-all for IT resources. A regular process for gathering costs and benefits for each project and using that information to make decisions is needed.

Once everyone sees how proposed projects affect the bottom line, deciding where to start becomes easier. Prioritization becomes a mutual decision among all business units and IT.

Improving reliability improves the user experience for all employees. The best way to improve reliability is to fix the root cause of problems and standardize processes, procedures and applications as much as possible.

Most software and systems are vastly underutilized – usually because of a lack of training and knowledge about all of the software's features. Closing this gap can increase efficiency and reduce the need to bring in more software.

This helps simplify your technology infrastructure and improves reliability. Examine your existing systems and ask how well are they being used. Are they underutilized?

Do employees know how they are expected to use the system? Has the system been configured to your organization's processes or do processes need to be modified to take advantage of system features?

Have standardized processes and procedures for using the system been communicated to all employees? Is more governance needed?

Do employees know how to properly use the system? Is more training needed? Are refresher courses needed?

Taking time early in the new year to plan your technology strategy and ensure it is aligned with organizational objectives will make IT and the organization more effective the rest of the year.

Rick Sutton is managing director of Weidenhammer's consulting division. His office is in Wyomissing, and he can be reached at 610-378-8600, ext. 8488 or rsutton@weidenhammerconsulting.com.

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