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XSoftware Professional Strategic Planning

Many organizations today are experiencing continually increasing information systems costs. In addition to increasing costs, organizations are finding their information systems to be a bottleneck to business improvements and growth. These organizations are taking a close look at their information systems and asking basic yet tough questions, such as:

  • Are we obtaining true value from the investments made in information systems?
  • How well are our current information systems applications meeting the business needs today?
  • Are we working on the right information systems projects to provide the most value to the business?
  • Will our current information systems applications meet business requirements in the future?
  • What information systems mission, objectives, strategies and computing architectures are necessary to meet the business challenges of the future?

With major improvements in technology over the past several years, many organizations are finding their old business application software unable to easily take advantage of the new technology. Many organizations are ready to invest in new technology to gain a competitive edge in the marketplace, or may even find it necessary just to stay in business. Industry statistics show more organizations will invest in new information systems hardware and software in the next three years than ever in the past. There are also more options, packages, and directions available to choose from than in the past. Many industry examples show organizations investing and executing information systems projects properly gaining a competitive edge. However, there are also many examples of organizations investing poorly, losing a significant amount of money and in some cases jeopardizing the existence of their entire organization. The information systems planning process is a crucial step for any organization and when properly done, will improve your odds of success.

By following the information systems planning process described, the process will facilitate communication between business management and the Information Systems function. Often, business management does not have a good understanding of the Information Systems function and might have questions such as:

  • What is our current information systems environment? What computers and software do we use to manage the business? What is the condition of our information systems environment? What are the strengths, weaknesses, and areas of vulnerability of our information systems environment? Are our information systems and associated processes structured to help us facilitate the delivery of services and product to our customers in the most cost efficient and effective manner?
  • How can we make the best decisions about our information systems investments? What should be our investment priorities for information systems?
  • What are our information systems resources working on currently? How do the Information Systems resources spend their time? How does the size of our Information Systems organization compare with the industry?
  • How much money is the company spending on information systems? How does our IS spending compare to the industry? How much has the spending grown over the past few years? We've been doing well without substantially increasing spending, why do we need to spend more now?
  • What are the industry technology trends, and how do the industry trends impact us?
  • What is the status of our competitors' information systems? Is our company behind or ahead of our competitors?
  • Do we have the internal skills necessary to take the environment where it needs to be? How much can we do, and how much should we utilize external resources?

At the same time, Information Systems management may not have a thorough understanding of the business direction, and have questions such as:

  • What are the business mission, objectives, and strategies?
  • What type of business will the company be in during the next few years?
  • How does the business want to function in the future?
  • What are the true business requirements?
  • What are the key information needs?
  • What are our customers and suppliers demanding of us?

The information systems strategic planning process can answer all these questions and provide a communication vehicle between the Information Systems function and business management.

The foundation of the process is that the business direction and requirements must drive the information systems direction and computing architecture. Although this sounds like a basic concept, many organizations will actually reverse the concept and let the attractive new technology drive their direction. In actuality, these organizations end up looking for a business problem to solve with the technology they want to utilize.

While information systems planning is critical, many organizations either spend too much time and money in the planning process, complete the plan in isolation, or skip the planning process altogether. This can result in over analysis, inability to obtain approval of the plan, or spending millions of dollars solving the wrong problem. Many companies mistake a proper information systems strategic planning process as something that must take many months (or even years) and thousands (or even millions) of dollars. However, with a solid process in place, you can complete the planning process with your own internal resources in a matter of weeks or a few months.

We will also provide a set of concepts, techniques, and templates for analyzing, organizing, and communicating the information in the Information Systems Strategic Plan. The process described will assist the organization in coming to a solid decision that has the support of the entire organization. Through the process, you will have a plan that will sell itself to management and others who need to approve the necessary investment.

If your Information Systems function is an integral part of the business and well connected with the business plans and direction, portions of this planning process will go quickly. However, it has been my experience that many organizations may not have a solid business plan, or Information Systems may not be tightly integrated with the business direction. For these organizations, our process will outline a step-by-step approach to determine and document that business direction as it will be the foundation for the information systems direction.