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The Boomer Bulletin - 2013
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Technology Planning – Getting A Grip On The Future

Posted By Eric Benson, Thursday, February 14, 2013

I’ve written in the past about how technology professionals are in the midst of a transition from hardware maintenance to service delivery.  This shift is happening faster in certain areas of firms than others, but there is no denying that the shift is in place and accelerating.

However, there are a few things that won’t change.  I imagine most people reading this article will immediately think of the computer, tablet, phone or other device you are reading this on.  Information that is delivered to these screens is not going away.  

Information and technology professionals might jump to their data center (or private cloud, depending on how trendy you are).  Again, this is important and the mechanics of delivery are often unknown or mystifying to the firm as a whole.

Finally, strategy and effective governance will never go away.  In fact, I believe technology professionals will need to establish a strong strategic role in the firm to insure continued value and employment in the firm.  

This article is the first in a series on building an effective strategic direction and budget for technology.  We’ll focus on creating basic alignment between firm leadership and technology – resulting in a starting point.  

Getting a good picture of where you are

This article will cover four strategies for getting a good baseline.

  1. Discuss the idea of building a strong direction with the right people in your firm.  Build the team and get commitment.
  2. Create a physical and visual inventory of the state of technology in your firm
  3. Collect and distribute any current project plans, budgets, assessments and methods of project approval
  4. Survey key leaders in the firm regarding both high priority projects for the firm and for technology

1. Build a team

Even in smaller firms, the typical reaction to creating an IT plan or direction is to sit down and ask the IT leader what he or she wants to do.  The discussion may never even happen due to lack of understanding on the part of leadership or technology.

To get around this hurdle, start small.  The partner in charge of technology (or equivalent professional) should sit down with the IT leader and discuss who should be on the team.  Brainstorm.  Pick from a mix of firm members, from partner down to newer staff members.  Find people who are vocal in the technology area (good or bad) as well as technologically savvy people in the firm.

Invite these people to a meeting and discuss the role of the team.  The goal is to solidify a direction for technology, provide firm-wide perspective and look at the whole picture.  Having a wide range of people will bring up issues that others may not know about.

Agree to meet weekly until the project is complete.  For smaller firms, this will only take a few weeks.  For larger firms, this may be a long term committee.  In either case, get commitment.  

2. Create a physical and visual inventory of technology in the firm

The typical technology inventory is a spreadsheet of servers, capacities and other data.  There may be software in place to track inventory as well.  These are very helpful, but sit down and figure out what is not on the list and document it.  This may require people from other offices to help.  Get the team to help distribute the work.

A second piece that is crucial is a visual inventory.  Take pictures of server closets or data centers.   Take pictures of the standard workstation layouts.  If there are no standards, document this in pictures.  Take pictures of every primary location that technology exists.  Add in notes of where the picture was taken, and ask for comments as you do.

The visual inventory will highlight inconsistencies and places where the technology is hidden with good reason.  This is not a place to judge; this is a picture of where you are.  It will give you a visual indicator of progress as you move through a strategic technology plan to address any issues that are uncovered.

3. Collect and distribute other technology documents and procedures

Besides the typical IT inventory, there is often a project plan or project list.  Find this and any other documents used to run the IT department.  Also, look at help desk ticketing systems and pull out basic statistics.  Don’t overkill on the data.  Collect the IT budget – even if it is the expenses for the year (or last year) from the controller or CFO.   The procedure IT goes through to get approval for projects is also a key piece to collect here.  Are decisions made and then reapproved at time of purchase?  What kind of autonomy is available to IT with regard to spending?

In addition, collect key firm strategic documents.  Collect the firm’s strategic plan, and if possible, collect the budget for the year.

The idea is collect what you have.  You may find that the pieces of successful IT governance are already in place but poorly organized, or that much of the work is done on an as needed basis.  Realize this is a baseline.  Having others look at the work will help provide insight.  There may be other tools in the firm that could be used in the technology area.  The opposite may be true as well.

4. Survey key leaders in the firm regarding high priority projects

This exercise will be very insightful for the technology planning committee.  Key players in the firm should fill out this simple survey:

  1. What are the five top priorities or projects for the firm this year?
  2. What are the five top technology priorities for the firm?

Have the managing partner, IT supervisor and IT leader in the firm fill this survey out independently.  If they are in close alignment, then your firm is ahead and the rest of the planning should go well.  If not, now is the time to know that you have alignment issues.

Where to go from here

This information should provide a very good picture of where you are.  There will be obvious gaps that should be filled – like a project plan but no formal IT budget.  List these out.  Also, list out the strengths you see.  This should not be all about the negatives.

The next few articles will establish additional stages for successful IT planning.  The second will focus on charting the destination point for this year, and hopefully many years in the future.  The third article will look into building a plan and budget to fulfill getting to the destination point.  Finally, the fourth will discuss accountability and tracking progress towards these goals.

Once through this process, you should be on your way to effective technology use and improved value to the firm as a whole.  Planning is only as good as the ability to follow up, so we will spend quite a bit of time on accountability at the end.

If you do take this path, I cannot state strongly enough that you are setting up a baseline.  There will always be room for improvement.  Realize where you are for what it really is; an exercise to improve firm performance and overall revenue.  We’ll discuss improvements and direction after this point, not during.  Enjoy the process!

Tags:  Information Technology; IT planning 

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