Saturday, 20 June 2015

The Importance of IT Strategy

Many companies or departments have no formal IT Strategy.

Appropriate use of computer systems and their related processes can be crucial to profitability. Where large volumes of data need to be handled, well-run systems can often bring tremendous efficiencies.

Unfortunately, poor quality systems frequently bring the reverse situation, with duplication, excessive clerical input and inadequate reporting.


The key point about an IT Strategy is to develop a consistent and efficient approach in order to achieve the required results.

I have dealt with a wide range of companies of all sizes. Even with smaller organisations, but especially with larger ones, automation is vital in order to streamline the way they operate.

However, many companies have not advanced with computerisation. Frequently it seems that all that has been done is to bolt on a computer that uses a clerical approach to deal with increased numbers of transactions, while a few (or many) spreadsheets help to manipulate the data and produce reports.

Of course there are considerable numbers of companies who are using their systems well. By definition they tend not to call on me for assistance! However the ones in need of support provide some horror stories.

For example I did some work for a large retailer, where I was aghast at the duplication and triplication of input that occurred throughout the company. Their systems did not produce the reports that were required for management decision-making, and staff were continuously at work developing and populating spreadsheets, entering data from other systems or clerical records (or from memory) and then doing it all again the next month. They closed within a year.


A system is bought or developed to carry out one process, say invoicing. Then the users realise they have another business need which cannot easily be carried out by the system they already have, so they set up some spreadsheets, or buy another package to help them deal with the new problem, for example, keeping track of orders.

This frequently means that input is duplicated, which creates its own problems. Staff have to remember to keep two systems updated, and soon they provide different answers if similar questions are asked of each one. (One retailer I know has three databases, each providing a different number when asked how many branches they have!)

When another business need comes along, a fresh system is set up without regard to the effect this will have, and so it continues. This approach means that budgets are often exceeded, because no-one has any idea what will happen in future.


The solution is to stop and take a long look at your current and anticipated requirements. Also review your Business Strategy. (See my article Have a Clear Business Strategy.)

Think carefully about how computer systems might be used to help as your business and your needs develop. This process is the start of the development of an IT Strategy – in other words, how you can use IT to help achieve your business aims. This approach, with careful planning, means that realistic budgets can be set in advance and IT expenditure can be much better controlled.

Don’t casually set up more systems or spreadsheets without allocating a true upkeep cost to each one you create. Many people have dozens of small spreadsheets requiring separate maintenance.

At least once a year pause and look at the proliferation of spreadsheets and independent systems, and decide whether there is a better way to move forward. This is where I come in useful – my visits ensure people stop what they are doing and think about what they should be doing. The result is a more consistent approach with a clearer view of the way forward. And money is saved.

(If this article was thought-provoking, have a look at this IT Strategy Case Study.)

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