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Are you doing the dishes? Time to check your IT strategy before it becomes an IT plan.

by Mark P. McDonald  |  November 17, 2011  |  3 Comments

Business relevance and alignment is a persistent issue in IT and a challenge for CIOs.  In this year’s CIO agenda presentations at Gartner Symposium these issues were discussed and measured based on CIO business priorities and plans.    The 2011 CIO survey looked at this issue and we described it in an analogy that IT believes it is connected with the business and doing important work.  The strategic importance of that work, as viewed by the business, is akin to a household chore – doing the dishes. Is IT important yes, critical to success sure, supporting your organizations sources of advantage – mostly not.  Just having the same list does not mean that you are aligned.

We came to that finding by asking CIOs to rate the importance of their business priorities in terms of each priority on a scale ranging from differentiating to common practice across all industries.  Likewise we asked CIOs to say how strongly connected were their IT strategies to their business strategies on a scale ranging from Very strong to none.  The result was:

Many claimed to be tightly connected to the business strategy with more than 80% of their plans either strongly or very strongly connected.


The power of those business strategies were quite low as more than 70% represented strategies that were general practices in their industry or across industry.

That was in 2011.

We are about to complete and finalize plans for 2012.  So it’s a good time to look at business strategies, IT plans and business expectations through the same lens.  See: It is time to create more than a little competitive instability for some ideas

Are you being asked to do the dishes again for 2012?  You are if you’re in support of business plans that do not drive your enterprise’s competitiveness – the things that make it

  • Unique,
  • Different from the competition, or
  • Represent the reasons why customers choose to do business with you over others.

These are the terms the business uses to assess the strategic importance of a plan, an investment, or action.    Notice that size does not impart strategic importance.  Your large IT projects, one that may be too big to fail, is not necessarily strategic and in fact may be the epitome of ‘doing the dishes.’

So its time to look at your plans and ask:

  • What are my major plans for 2012?  Which business strategies do those plans support?
  • What is the level of that support?  What will IT do that will realize the strategy and its objectives.
  • What is the strategic nature of that business strategy?  Does it create strategic value that the business would recognize?
  • What are the other business strategies where IT is not involved?  What is their strategic nature?  Could IT make them more strategic?

Not every IT plan will be strategic.  In fact for a strategy to be unique and differentiating, it has to be somewhat rare. Trying to claim that all IT plans have business based strategic relevance is not recommended as it makes you look co-dependent.

Rather, treat the business strategically relevant IT plans differently.  Give them more ‘quality time’ in leadership meetings.  Give them greater visibility in your communications with the business.  Adopt business performance based measures for their success rather than progress against plan.

Raise their profile, because if you treat the business strategic programs the same as everything else in your plan then you are telling your business peers that there strategic plan is the same as general practices – you see doing them the same as doing the dishes.

Category: 2012  cfo  cio  it-governance  leadership  strategic-planning  strategy  

Tags: 2012-planning  business-strategy  it-and-business  it-strategy  strategy-and-planning  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Are you doing the dishes? Time to check your IT strategy before it becomes an IT plan.

  1. Pearl Zhu says:

    Hi, Mark, I think you well pointed out the difference between the strategy with best practices.

    Strategy is more about the sets of choices for organization to compete for the future, to shape the uniqueness and competitive advantage; best practice is about the proven methodologies or historical pattern to standardize and improve efficiency;

    Today’s IT need differentiate “core” from chore, and strategy help refine the core; best practice may automate the chore, thanks.

  2. Jerry says:

    Plan or Strategy? Strategic or aligned? I am beginning to think by framing the debate in this manner we are beginning to lose everyone’s attention. A more stark construct is the old idea of there are only business solutions which require business investments and returns. The challenge for IT is to frame what IT wants to do into a legitimate business case and compete for funding.

  3. […] deliver those elements to a service that turns them into functionality that drives business value.Are you doing the dishes? Time to check your IT strategy before it becomes an IT plan by Mark McDona…Quote: Not every IT plan will be strategic. In fact for a strategy to be unique and differentiating, […]

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