Developing a ‘living’ strategic technology plan

A blueprint for change
By: | September 4, 2019

Craig Park is an award-winning and nationally recognized technology thought leader.

One of the greatest challenges to effective strategic technology planning is change. With new technology innovations and some iteration of Moore’s law, Bob Prosen, a management consultant and author, said it well: “At the beginning of the day, it’s all about possibilities. At the end of the day, it’s all about results.”

We can plan for the technology we know, but how do we plan for technology that doesn’t exist, or hasn’t been proven yet? As technology consultants, we ground our recommendations in today’s reality, while extending our clients’ visions with research-informed science fiction.

Ten years ago, several significant technologies either in their infancy or didn’t exist, including gigabit Wi-Fi; phone, tablet and wearable computing; augmented and virtual reality; the CRISPR gene-editing technique; social media; drones; and 3D printing. Now, we take them for granted.

Today, in most of the developed world, connecting to broadband and Wi-Fi has the same level of expected quality and convenience as turning on the lights or drawing a glass of water. Imagine another decade of development and progress, with the emerging technologies of artificial intelligence, the internet of things, 5G and holography impacting us.

The ‘why’ of technology planning

Effective strategic technology planning builds on an institution’s strengths—its positive core competencies. Leaders can discover profitable opportunities and initiatives, visualize and articulate goals and strategic alternatives, and prioritize objectives. This work creates an achievable, dynamic and “living” plan.

There is an old saying: “Good strategic planning is like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. You start at one end, and when you reach the other end, you go back and start over.” When developing a plan, focus on a reasonable implementation schedule. The best technology plans include an annual review of near-term initiatives and a three-year look-ahead at the impact of emerging technologies on longer-term priorities. Looking further than three years is likely to be less effective given the pace of change we are experiencing today.

Start with the end in mind

All successful strategic planning efforts start with a vision. Helping clients articulate a vision for something that doesn’t or may not yet exist is challenging. Beginning with an understanding of each organization’s core business mission—what we do—defines the reason for which the organization exists. Extending that discussion to a vision articulates leadership’s strategic long-term intent—what we want to be.

Asking key questions, sharing observations and goals, and determining priorities lead to rich, technology-supported environments.

In support of mission and vision, defined values are cultural truths that describe how each organization interacts with its clients and with its staff and supporting resources, including vendors, associates and affiliates.

Using the same inquiry-based process, organizations can focus on how technology works today and how it could work in the future, and on what positive qualities technology brings to management and staff, and their clients. As a subset of comprehensive strategic planning, technology planning provides the communication, connection and collaboration infrastructure to support the organization’s short- and long-term objectives.

To proceed with planning, define each of these five elements:

  1. Purpose: Determine your goal. What technology would make the greatest difference? Why?
  2. Strengths: What’s working well now?
  3. Opportunities: Imagine the possibilities. What could be?
  4. Aspirations: Rank what you want to achieve. What should be?
  5. Results: Make it real. What will be?

Each of these questions can be expanded to include reviews of different business units, internal processes, and external or client-facing initiatives, with the perspective of what existing, new or emerging technology would make a positive difference if implemented. Difference can be defined as improved resources, reduced expenditures and improved quality of service—measured in value.

Specific, measurable, achievable, resourced and time-bound, these objectives generate initiatives—the how-to actions—to achieve the goals.

Enabling discovery

After determining the technology-related mission, vision and values, it is important to review existing technology standards and note their relevance when looking forward. Similarly, to provide a comprehensive overview of the status quo, it is important to review current capital and operational budgets; conduct a facilities and infrastructure inventory; and review organizational structures, job descriptions, methodologies and policies.

Interviews with stakeholders across the organization can provide insights into the user experience, and can be supplemented by online surveys to access the cultural perspective of how technology supports individuals and the enterprise.

Documenting roles and relationships within current staffing structures, and the level of use of external resources, gives a picture of the human factors impacting technology service and support. Diagramming workflows and determining important key performance indicators provide a complete picture of the current state.

Focus on innovation

Many organizations use some form of “visioning” to move thinking beyond what is to what could be. Examine emerging technologies that are likely to have an impact on near-term initiatives.

A good resource for this kind of information can be found at Gartner and its annual “Hype Cycle for Emerging Technology” report charts the progress and expectations of new technologies—from their initial introduction, through public awareness and to a productive use case. This five- to 10-year cycle has been exceedingly accurate in predicting many of the technologies we take for granted today.

Where “visioning” promotes future thinking, benchmarking compares the enterprise technology goals with other comparable organizations’ approaches and implementations. Benchmarking research into how similar peer institutions are using technology takes time, but ultimately provides definable valuable metrics. Benchmarking is a good tool to help stakeholders visualize those features they see as beneficial, and those they don’t.

At this stage, it is important to summarize results and document key technology drivers most relevant to the organization. This work will help identify service and support gaps and provide data for a realistic assessment of organizational effectiveness and alignment with the technology vision.

Making an impact

With a thorough discovery phase and an open and forward-looking innovation phase, the final element in developing a strategic technology plan is to finalize goals, objectives, initiatives and tactics. Documenting technology goals confirms and set primary objectives. It helps prioritize technology initiatives and identifies alternative processes and technologies for consideration.
Establishing a repeatable (and revisable) framework for technology architecture helps quantify performance improvement expectations and metrics. It provides the ability to translate tactics into budgets. Creating a schedule with associated responsibilities and resources provides the data for enterprise dashboard elements.

There is little doubt about the importance of integrated institutional planning. Including a strategic technology component to the business planning process aligns relevant supporting technology with overall enterprise goals.

Asking key questions, sharing observations and goals, and determining priorities lead to rich, technology-supported environments.

This approach—balancing upgrades and sustainment and operational considerations—is the basis for an effective strategic technology plan. Supporting the implementation of a planning process by establishing a standing advisory task force—representing a cross-section of the organization—provides the foundation and internal support for ongoing analysis, review and recommendations to meet the short- and long-term goals of a sustainable technology plan.

What’s next?

Ultimately, the best investment in technology is planning for sustainable infrastructure upgrades that proceed at a measured pace and recognizing the fast-changing nature of technology. It’s been said: “An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that only exists as an idea.”
Investing time and resources in the development of a blueprint for change provides the organization with a robust and reflective plan for the future. And remember the bridge analogy: As soon as you are done, it’s time to start again.

Craig Park is an award-winning and nationally recognized technology thought leader. He serves as managing principal for The Sextant Group’s Omaha office. Park can be reached at [email protected]


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