Is Your IT Organization Really Future-Focused? Knowing the...
Govciooutlook

Is Your IT Organization Really Future-Focused? Knowing the differences between strategic planning and traditional long-term planning can help CIOs answer this question

Clayton Voignier, Director, Strategy and Innovation at Union County

Clayton Voignier, Director, Strategy and Innovation at Union County

One of the most important ways that CIOs lead their IT organizations is by articulating their vision and mission through strategic planning. However, what most people think of as strategic planning is really traditional, long-term or linear planning. Let’s explore the differences.

The strategic thinking and management process, i.e. strategic planning, is very different than, and even opposite, the traditional long-term planning process, which is typically, yet mistakenly referred to as “strategic planning”. Unlike traditional long-term planning, which is focused on making incremental improvements to the existing organizational or business model, the strategic thinking and management process is focused on envisioning and planning for a time when the existing organizational or business model – the current way of operating – will no longer work no matter how much incremental improvement is made.

While both processes are concerned with the future, traditional long-term planning usually involves determining a future based on what the organization wants to do within the current way of operating whereas strategic planning involves envisioning an entirely different future based on what the external forces of change are telling the organization that it needs to do. As such, the traditional long-term planning process begins with the current state and proposes a path to meet estimated future wants while strategic planning begins with the desired future state and works backward to establish the necessary current state.

“While some elements from both planning processes are similar, strategic planning involves looking more comprehensively at the external environment than traditional, long-term planning.”

A typical long-term planning process involves developing vision, mission and values statements, setting goals and objectives, and formulating strategies, action steps and performance indicators in that order. Most government IT organizations are familiar with this approach. What is likely to be less familiar are the major phases of the typical strategic planning process outlined below:

● Determine core values

● Understand key strategic trends in the external environment

● Identify key future distinct competencies

● Assess the desirability of the external and internal environments

● Formulate or adjust vision, mission, strategies, actions and progress measures

While some elements from both planning processes are similar, strategic planning involves looking more comprehensively at the external environment than traditional, long-term planning. Using the latter approach for example, an IT organization may identify the general macro trends in the external environment. However, strategic planning involves identifying key strategic trends in the macro environment as well as the IT sector and the specific IT industries, i.e. technology hardware and equipment, software and services, and semiconductors and equipment. One way to accomplish this is to conduct a SWOT, PEST or similar analysis for each area – macro environment, IT sector and each IT industry – and prioritize the results to uncover the key strategic trends.

Brainstorming and identifying key future distinct competencies for each key strategic trend should be conducted before establishing vision and mission statements.  A distinct competency is a unique underlying capability or resource that will result in doing something significantly better than other benchmark IT organizations. In the private sector, these would be business competitors, but for governments in the public sector, competition centers around excellence, not market share. Similar to SMART goals, key future distinct competencies should be specific, measurable and sustainable. Most of us think of competencies during annual performance appraisals, such as core competencies of problem-solving ability, presentation skills or budget responsibility. However, key future distinct competencies are specific to operations, such as comprehensive business continuity planning, efficient systems implementation and integration or effective IT governance.

Like key future distinct competencies, assessing the desirability of the internal and external environments should be completed prior to developing vision and mission statements and is not typical of traditional long-term planning. This assessment is directional in nature meaning that the internal and external environments are either a) positive, and thus favorable to the IT organization, b) negative, and thus disadvantageous to the IT organization, or c) neutral. For the external environment, the assessment should be driven by the key strategic trends, and for the internal environment, the assessment should focus on whether or not the IT organization already possesses any key future distinct competencies. Results from both identifying key future distinct competencies and assessing the desirability of the internal and external environments should provide more specificity and clarity to the IT organization when drafting vision and mission statements that will set its course for the future.

Based on the differences explored here, some might conclude that traditional, long-term planning is inferior to strategic planning. On the contrary, for an IT organization to be successful, strategic planning must be done continuously and simultaneously alongside traditional long-term planning, and knowing these differences is critical to determining whether or not your IT organization is truly future-focused. 

Weekly Brief

Read Also

Providing the Necessary Support for an Organization's Growth

Chris Chilbert, Chief Information Officer at Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

State and Local Government Needs Lean Principles and Agile Methodologies

Kevin Gray, Chief Information Officer at City of Burbank

Data is Crucial for Emerging Aviation Technologies

By James Grimsley, Executive Director - Advanced Technology Initiatives at Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and Lisa Ellman, Partner at Hogan Lovells LLP and Executive Director of Commercial Drone Alliance

The Crisis Facing Public Service Technology Leadership in Local Government

Jack Belcher, Phd. FRM Chief Technology Innovation Officer / Chief Information Officer, Arlington County, Virginia

An Overview of Government Consulting Services

Chad Powell, Chief Technology Officer at City of Irving