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Tips for strategic IT planning

This article appears in the issue October 1998 [Volume 7, Issue 11]

Enterprise planning of information systems is a mix of art and science. Many wonderful texts are written about the subject, each stating its formula or method. None is perfect, so we have taken the liberty of pulling salient pieces from various works to at least give the reader some perspective. (A must-read is Bernard H. Boar's series of books entitled "Strategic Thinking for Information Technology," Wiley Computer Publishing.

We see common attributes that suggest that when planning enterprise systems, one should ensure that the design takes into consideration the following:

  • harmony with business goals-Too often IT solutions are implemented without a real vision of the business needs. These are the projects that continue to fail because of poor planning; they are solutions looking for problems.
  • focus on outcomes-Outcomes are the desired end; they are not the same as outputs. We can measure how many operations a hospital performs and how much medication is prescribed. But what we want is a healthier population-not necessarily more operations and dispensed drugs.
  • heightened collaboration-The design should promote the various organizational units to work harmoniously toward the shared competitive goals.
  • speed is everything-The design should enable the business to execute all actions expeditiously.
  • standards-based-Standards provide the glue that holds the different implementations across various departments together in a cohesive whole.
  • responsiveness-The design should permit the business to promptly react to changing times and circumstances.
  • flexibility-The design should permit the organization to be adaptive.
  • innovation-The design should leave room for people to be innovative in solving customer problems.
  • permeability-The design should enable new ideas to enter and disperse throughout the organization. It should enable the business to learn.
  • leverage-The design should permit the business to achieve economies of scale and reuse where appropriate.
  • execution-The design should facilitate doing. It should lubricate action and eliminate the exhausting resistance of friction.
  • spontaneity-The design should permit the organization to dynamically evolve to stay in harmony with the changing environment. That is called spontaneous self-reorganization.
  • accountability-The design should make it clear who is responsible for what.
  • authority-The design should make it clear who has the authority to make decisions and allocate resources.
  • control-The design should balance spontaneity with the need for control.

    As the plan shapes up, the remaining work centers on executing a planning process to develop the enterprise systems architecture. With every plan there needs to be a well-defined goal. Information systems road maps are ineffective without a clear destination. For without a destination, every road-even a well-planned road-will lead you somewhere, even if somewhere is not where you intended to be.


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