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New World IT Planning

Making sound technology investments involves defining the right priorities, identifying technologies, a thorough product selection process, and flawless implementation.

Fundamentals of Planning & Selection

These assumptions must be identified and communicated to ensure everyone is thinking along the same lines. Next, a list of major opportunities should be created, identifying where information technology solutions should be able to assist the organization in achieving its overall business objectives. A technology roadmap should then be developed. This roadmap should tie directly into the potential opportunities and should identify by business objective where specific types of solutions should be applied and within what timeframes. You might think of the roadmap as the glue that will hold this plan together.

The most meticulous step within any IT planning effort should be tactical project identification. With this activity, the planner should ensure that, based on the technology roadmap, the entire organization has identified the realistic projects that should be initiated to meet its goals. During this activity, more details should be put around each initiative, including the specific scope of work, the project approach, specific deliverables and outcomes, the resources required (time, people, and dollars), specific timeframes, risks, and potential returns.

For each tactical initiative, the planner should attempt to quantify some return on investment (ROI) to assist executives in justifying the effort. The key is estimating ""hard"" metrics that can be predicted and monitored over time (e.g., increased organic growth via cross-selling, improved customer satisfaction ratings, decreased costs associated with customer support, etc.). Even if these hard returns are difficult to quantify, each tactical initiative should offer various ""soft"" returns, such as increased productivity, improved service, efficiencies and processes, better branding, etc., and these returns should be identified as part of building the business case for the initiative.

Once the tactical efforts are identified and clearly defined, it's time to put the pieces of the puzzle together. More specifically, by determining the tactical sequencing, the plan identifies key interdependencies and issues that may exist between the tactical projects. Besides recognizing these interdependencies, now is the time to map more specific timeframes to each initiative.

Focus on Budgeting

The final and, in many cases, the most important outcomes of the planning process are the budget estimates. These estimates should provide the financial specifics for the CFO or other individuals who will be focusing on the actual costs associated with the efforts. These estimates should include both capital cost estimates for each tactical initiative (identifying costs for hardware, software and services), as well as identifying various ongoing operational estimates for costs such as maintenance contracts, software updates, and labor.

As executives pull together a completed IT plan, they should remember that the process should be flexible enough to allow for changes to be made as business goals change, markets shift and—as insurers know all too well—the unexpected happens. Once the initiatives are identified, it's time to move on to the IT selection phase. For those initiatives that require the selection of a specific technology solution, it's once again imperative that a methodical process be in place to drive the organization toward its decision. This process should be clearly defined and communicated across the information technology organization to ensure that all members of the team understand the approach.

The IT selection phase should consist of a segmented approach, targeted to help the organization define the specific requirements relative to the specific business problem at hand. The outcome of this plan should also enable you to begin your implementation planning, identify viable solution providers and select the solution most appropriate for your organization's needs.

The key phases during any selection effort should consist of several steps. First, a needs assessment should be completed by conducting cross-departmental surveys and interviews of key personnel. The selection team should develop a keen understanding of the key business objectives, assess current processes already in place, and examine the current IT infrastructure. The outcome of this step should be a comprehensive statement of current functional processes, goals, and systems. This needs assessment also provides the foundation for all subsequent activities related to the selection.

Meeting Business Demands

Building upon the needs assessment, a formal requirements definition should be created to ensure the team has gathered the detailed descriptions of specific functional, technical and high-level business requirements that this solution must address to meet the stated business needs and goals. These requirements should map back to many of those defined in the planning phase.

Once the team has identified the needs and requirements, it's time to develop a high-level deployment approach. This approach is effectively an outline of a calculated, phased approach to deploying the selected solution, including potential pitfalls and prioritization of efforts and resources.

Lastly, a solution comparison and recommendation should be created that includes a recommended ""short list"" of the most appropriate vendors and products that offer the best solutions to meet the requirements. This list should include each solution's strengths, weaknesses and trade-offs, including the financial viability of each solution provider. These comparisons should lead to the recommendation identifying the most appropriate vendor and solution.

There's no getting around the fact that knowledge is power, and the more of it you have when making critical decisions, the more secure you can be in your technology procurement decisions. Yet statistics show that the reason well over 50 percent of IT projects fail is poor planning up front, which then led to misinformed technology decisions.

One lesson to emerge from recent history, when so many organizations rushed to procure Internet technology, is that the companies that came out on top were those that adhered to a planning process, making informed decisions every step of the way. Those companies have realized the greatest benefits from their technology investments, improving operationally, while also mitigating risk by getting it right the first time.

James Watson is president, Todd Hollowell is vice president of advisory services, and Linda Andrews is a senior technical editor with Chicago-based Doculabs, Inc. (, an industry analyst and advisory firm that helps companies plan their e-business strategies and select and exploit technologies for their e-business.

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