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How to Keep Your IT Strategy from Becoming Shelfware

By Barton Kaplan

Barton KaplanWe’re living in tumultuous times. That sounds like a cliché, but a cursory glance at the most recent headlines and earnings news bears it out.

Technologically, we’ve moved from the mainframe, to the client-server, and now to the mobile-cloud era, with tremendous implications for both the sellers and consumers of enterprise technologies. Recent geopolitical events have shaken long-held assumptions and created new uncertainties.

Together, this combination of forces has made the work of an already beleaguered group within IT – strategic planners – even tougher. And it’s not as if things were going swimmingly prior to this latest wave of change. When advisory company CEB surveyed business partners about IT strategic planning, a meager 23% agreed that it was effective.[1]

But as tempting as it might be to fire your IT strategist and declare planning dead, 93% of those very same business partners also said they thought IT strategic planning was important.

Which begs the question: In a time of unprecedented change, how do you keep your strategy from becoming shelfware?

Leading organizations I’ve worked with employ the following three best practices to ensure their IT strategies stay relevant:

  1. Embed scenarios into strategy. It’s standard practice to align IT initiatives to business goals and objectives. In today’s environment, however, it isn’t enough to align to a single outcome. An automotive company I worked with looks instead at a range of possible outcomes, listing best case, worst case, and most likely scenarios. Each scenario is then heatmapped against the current IT portfolio to understand the potential impact. As a result of this exercise, project cycle times were reduced by up to three months.
  2. Define strategic triggers. To increase the agility of its strategy, a financial services company began to include possible economic, business, and IT events (e.g., an acquisition, a new product launch, etc.) that would require revisions to its roadmap. They go so far as to list specific actions that need to be taken should any particular event actually come to pass.
  3. Make it a living document. Strategic plans are especially vulnerable to quickly falling out of date and losing their currency. Too many organizations place a lot of emphasis on and resources behind the creation of a strategy, but don’t adequately think through how that strategy will be maintained and refreshed going forward. Effective strategies require ongoing care and feeding, which only happens when owners are named and responsibilities clearly spelled out.

In times of constant, radical change, maintaining both focus and flexibility will ensure your strategy stays relevant.


[1] “Flexible Strategic Planning,” CIO Leadership Council Webinar, June 2014.


Bart Kaplan is a business solution strategist with VMware Accelerate Advisory Services and is based in Maryland.

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