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Building an IT strategy and road map for new and emerging technology

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Middle market organizations are increasingly viewing IT as the vehicle to gain operational efficiencies and identify business opportunities. Our clients often ask us how they can harness the power of new and emerging technologies – like robotics process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), natural language processing (NLP), internet of things (IoT), and blockchain – to gain competitive advantage. While there is no shortage of service providers specializing in these technologies, having a solid technology foundation is a key prerequisite.

Very often, we find that organizations operate with vulnerable data and security models, antiquated systems and architectures, and weak outsourcing and strategic partnerships. Poor IT fundamentals can make gaining competitive advantage from AI, ML and similar technologies difficult.

The starting point to address all these items is an IT strategic plan or digital roadmap.

What is an IT strategic plan?

Similar to a business strategic plan, an IT strategic plan is a road map that outlines how technology and digital transformation will support the business strategy and help drive business priorities during the same timeline.

In RSM’s recent digital transformation survey of middle market organizations, 94% of respondents reported that they have a digital road map. Yet, only 48% said they have a fully developed digital strategy. Worse still, Gartner’s 2018 CIO survey found that only 29% of IT leaders thought their organizations effectively plan for IT.

An IT plan increases visibility into technology priorities as they directly relate to meeting business needs. It can facilitate investment and tradeoff discussions around technology investments across the organization, and can become an important communication tool to proactively convey investment decisions, define resourcing needs, and justify expenditures.

Developing an IT Strategic Plan

The best IT road maps are aligned with the organization’s strategic plan, and prepare the organization for technology investments to support business, regulatory or security initiatives.

  • Plan for the plan

Develop a project plan for the IT strategic plan development process, including identifying key stakeholders, resources, communication plan and project artifacts needed for the process.

  • Review your business strategic plan

It doesn’t hurt (and may even be inspiring) to develop a set of guiding principles or a mission statement for IT that is tied to the corporate vision and plan, and review business objectives.

  • Use a meeting facilitator

Much like business planning, IT strategic planning should solicit input from all stakeholders. This may become challenging depending on the stature of the IT leader or the person driving the planning process. In order to make the environment “safer” for participants, have a staff member or a resource with good meeting facilitation skills run the planning meetings. If not, consider hiring an external facilitator or consultant.

  • Address IT holistically

An effective IT strategic plan includes information on timeframes, goals, risks and opportunities associated with what we at RSM refer to as the four “pillars” of IT, representing a holistic view of the IT environment:

1. IT organization / resources, operating processes, governance and strategic partnerships

2. Business application environment

3. Infrastructure

4. IT general controls and security

To understand how your organization compares with your peers on some of these components, use this IT maturity assessment: http://itmaturityassessment.rsm.cloud/.

  • Do your research

Again, much like a business strategic plan, business and regulatory conditions, the technology marketplace, a SWOT analysis, current and future infrastructure and application inventory, strategic vendor and outsourcing partnerships, etc. are all considerations for the IT roadmap process.

  • Define success

Define and agree upon the critical success factors and KPIs for measuring progress. Measure and report on the KPIs at least on a monthly basis.

  • Establish a time horizon

Given the pace of technological and business change, a mid-term timeframe, covering no more than 2-3 years, is ideal. Also reassess the plan and assumptions as needed to serve as “lessons learned” for subsequent planning cycles.

Ultimately, an IT strategic plan forces the entire organization to think about the overall impact of introducing any technological change, regardless of the type of technology – AI, RPA or otherwise.