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How can we create the best possible IT strategic plan?

My question more about "IT strategic planning." When the MIS department writes down a strategic plan they will write a 3-5 years plan, but in reality its only going to last for six months, the changes that take place in technology, business, management methods and budget makes a five year plan an exercise in conjecture. How do you judge this statement?
This is the old chicken and egg plan. You are right - technology does change often. Moore's law states that computing power doubles every 18 months, and we all know that is true.

The trick to a 3-5 year plan is being able to anticipate changes. For instance, you know you will have to change out your switches if you are going to move to faster applications, you know you will have to change out your PC's at least for your power users. You have to figure growth into the equation (adding new employees, services, etc.)

Cabling now is coming into the same plans as newer applications may or may not run on existing cabling. The standards have new test requirements for Cat5 and Cat5e, and will have some more for Category 6 for 10G operations. Switches and routers are generally seen as 2-3 year investments, PC's are from 18 mos. to 3 years, depending usually on company accounting.

Labor is another area that is tricky. One has to figure labor for all of the above. A recent Gartner survey said that many companies under estimate labor costs by 50%. Costs of downtime are high. Costs of a slow network are also high. As for failures, the infrastructure: Hardware (25%), software (25%) and the network cabling system (21%) were the root causes for 71% on network downtime.

It is a lot to account for over the next five years. Many companies are doing three-year plans now, with yearly updates. New applications can completely change even the best of plans, and this area is not always within the control of IT.

The best plans incorporate questionnaires from all departments including equipment, applications and employee counts. Labor is generally added with a 10% increase in cost year over year, although it may not be that high, it is a good planning point. For specialized applications that require specialized talent, an hourly rate that is generally quite high, should also be taken into account. Then you will want to add training, facilities (UPS systems, Fire Life and Safety, Building automation, VoIP convergence, etc.). Expendables (tapes, printer cartridges, etc.), offsite storage, and miscellany are also added at some point. Some companies even add their standard specifications as an addendum.

It is no small exercise, but at least provides a financial blueprint moving forward. Poor planning or no planning is twice as costly as some incremental change to an existing plan.

This was last published in October 2003

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