It's always best to have a plan. Managers tend to consider IT as mainly reactionary, existing only as a blueprint for fixing problems when they arise. However, that modus operandi is becoming increasingly outdated. Modern IT departments thrive on forward-thinking strategies that anticipate rather than react to problems.
This proactive approach represents a radical break from traditional perception. Regardless of size, every business needs a technology plan. This article will help you understand why, before getting into the details on exactly how you can build such a plan to maximize potential and growth opportunities.
Why Does Your Business Need a Technology Plan?
No modern business operates without technology. Whether your field service workers need a smartphone to communicate during appointments or your office workers use accounting software to make accurate calculations, technology has become ubiquitous across situations. As Forbes put it a few months ago, "Every business is now a technology business."
A thorough strategy helps to guide you through any needs that come with that technology. More specifically, the right plan can accomplish a variety of goals for your business:
- Anticipate and plan for potential growth.
- Forecast future IT needs that come with that growth.
- Mitigate the risks that come from data breaches and cybersecurity threats.
- Better allocate your budget by removing unnecessary technology spend and prioritize areas that accomplish strategic goals.
Take that third reason as an example. Data breaches are all too common in today's business environment. According to one survey, more than half of small businesses report having experienced a cyber attack in the past 12 months. That number only rises for larger businesses holding larger volumes of more sensitive data. A technology plan can help you better prepare for and defend against such attacks.
7 Steps to Create a Technology Plan
The why is clear, so let's focus on the how. Knowing that you need a plan doesn't help much if you don't know how to accomplish that feat. Consider these 7 steps to create a technology plan designed to protect and propel your business into the future.
1) Get the Right People Involved
Building a technology plan makes little sense if it's not organized by the right people. On the other side of the coin, the best plans are built when the people with the highest stakes and knowledge involved have a part in it.
That's why the first step needs to revolve around getting the right members of your business involved. You need a variety of viewpoints represented in the process:
- Leaders who understand the business at its deepest level, including the goals and plan to reach those larger goals.
- IT professionals who understand the technology involved, its impact on the business, and the greater industry standards and developments for potential future initiatives.
- Operations professionals who have a close understanding of the daily tasks involved in running the organization.
- End users of the technology who can provide an outside perspective of current platforms and potential improvement opportunities.
Each of them might have different roles in the process. They all should be involved to make sure that their perspective is heard and, when deemed relevant, acted upon.
2) Build Objectives that Match Your Business Goals
With the right people at the table, it's time to start building the plan itself. That begins with a summary of the plan itself, along with overarching objectives that describe what you're setting out to accomplish.
Don't get too specific at this point. Instead, focus on the overarching vision for the plan itself. It can be a draft document for now; ideally, you can revisit this document throughout the planning process and one final time once the rest of the plan is built to make sure everything you're doing leads back to these core objectives.
Integration with your business goals is absolutely crucial at this stage. Your technology plan has to make sense not just for the platforms involved, but your business vision and strategy as a whole. Ideally, each of your objectives should match directly to one of your larger business goals.
3) Perform a Technology Needs Assessment
Once your overarching objectives are in place, it's time to get specific. The next step involves an exact technology needs assessment, a systematic review of what types of tech your business needs to accomplish its goals now and in the future.
That assessment should have a number of components:
- An overview of existing technology, typically accomplished through a technology audit, to set the baseline.
- An estimate of immediate needs on an operational level: what barriers do your teams currently have that could be solved with technology?
- A forecast of potential future needs, based on industry trends and competitor activity.
- A comprehensive summary that finds gap between current environment and both present and future needs.
Done right, this needs assessment allows you to further break down exactly what your technology plan needs to accomplish. It also leads right into the next steps of breaking down those needs into achievable goals
4) Specify SMART Short-Term and Long-Term Goals
No strategy, technology or otherwise, can be complete without goals. They anchor your document, connecting the larger objectives and needs directly to a plan of execution that helps you accomplish them. The best goals are SMART:
- Specific, allowing even people who weren't involved in the process to easily understand and process them
- Measurable, allowing you to track progress to goal and success (or failure) of your plan as a whole.
- Attainable, realistic for your company's budget, human resources, and company attention.
- Relevant, especially as it connects to both your overarching objective and the larger business goals your plan is connected to.
- Time-bound, with a specific horizon in which the goal needs to be achieved an a good reason why.
Each goal should have every one of those characteristics. It also makes sense to spread out your goals: establish some short-term needs with a shorter horizon, as well as more ambitious long-term goals designed to keep your entire business striving towards a more positive future of business growth.
5) Establish Resource Requirement to Meet these Goals
With your goals in place, it's time to start planning the resources you have available to meet these goals. Here, a thorough technology plan doesn't just estimate a dollar amount. Instead, it breaks down each of the resources needed, from human to budgetary, for each goals.
Your plan should identify these resources as specifically as possible, knowing of course that most of them will still be estimates. At the same time, it also makes sense to include various tiers that helps anyone reading the plan understand the nuances: full goal attainment is possible with a specific amount, whereas a lower amount (perhaps 75%) should get you close but not quite there.
Done right, your technology plan can function as a budget request for executive leadership. If the resource requirements are laid out specifically, and connect directly with the why of the plan and its close connection to business objectives, you can make a strong case for getting the budget you need to move forward.
6) Build a Road Map of Implementation
Next comes the final step before the plan goes into action. Businesses that successfully implement their technology plans do so because they know exactly what they're doing, and have known for a while. That's because part of the plan itself is a road map that lays out exactly what should be done, and when.
This road map is hypothetical. It includes general timelines for phasing out old technology, implementing new platforms, and training employees to function well in the changing environment. Laid out as a Gantt chart or other visual, it's easy to follow for both internal and external stakeholders who need to review the plan at various points.
7) Implement Your Plan with Regular Checkpoints
Finally, it's time for implementation. It's important to consider this step as part of the plan itself; after all, a strategy means little if it never sees the light of day. Implementation means following the road map you built, as well as possible, to meet your objectives with the resources you have been provided.
Regular benchmarks are important in this process. They allow you to make sure you remain on track with your various goals. Because they're measurable and time-bound, you can easily relate to whether or not your implementation is going well. Many businesses integrate a quarterly check-in to evaluate their progress and estimate where improvements still need made.
Of course, each of these steps can take significant time. It's not uncommon for months to pass between gathering a strategic team and actually implementing the outcomes of that initial conceptualizing. That effort, however, is well worth it.
Building a strategy this comprehensively allows you to account for not just current expectations but future needs, as well. It turns your IT operations into a proactive, strategic part of the business that plays a vital role in its growth and success. From mitigating cybersecurity risks to allowing you to better allocate your budget, it's a must-have for small and large businesses alike.