Strategic Planning is the first step towards success

Each year about March it is time to write the business plan for the next financial year. By the beginning of the 4th quarter we should have our strategic plans firmed up so we can start to plan the activities and then by the end of the quarter have our budgets in place.

A good planning session should start with strategy, creating direction, allowing the creation og clear objectives leading to selection of tactics. IT will be just one of the components and the high level strategy will inform the investments and the tactics.

This may sound pompous if you have a break/fix mentality of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. This break/fix style of management will lead to an abundance of tactical work to repair faults but cannot lead to any strategic business advantage. A typical result of this approach is that the IT budget is spent on work and people who are entirely reactive, exhausting a budget that would be better spent on innovation that reduced the reactive workload. Unfortunately break/fix is often seen as a way to reduce spending in a business, the result is often quite the opposite. Modern IT innovations are now underpinning improved work processes that lead to significant cost savings not just in the IT department but across all aspects of the business.

Recently Telstra implemented Yammer into its business and the CEO David Thodey used the tool to ask the staff what part of their business function could be improved to reduce duplicated effort or to improve customer service. No surprise lots of people communicated back ideas on how to make the business better. Do you have a communication tool like that in your business? When did you last ask your staff what they find time-consuming and frustrating about their jobs or your IT systems? What might they say should be changed to make their jobs more enjoyable, quicker or easier? What if they told you? Could you drive the cost of business down and have happier employees working more productively for you?

Your challenge as a business owner is to attract the best employees who help you expand your business, work productively and look after your customers so the revenue and margins keep expanding or the quality or capability of your product or service improves. My challenge to you is to look at how putting an IT strategy in place for the next three years can help you towards this outcome. People do better with the right support and systems. IT underpins many aspects of your business which is why the strategic approach makes sense.

Recently I met with an innovative entrepreneur who has built a new application set for his mobile team in the field that not only increases the productivity of his people by 40% to 100%, it also improves the flow of data back to the head office so that tracking and reporting can be done and better decisions can be made. In testing with his team, his more motivated staff were getting amazing results and one of the less inspired team members asked, “If I can get my tasks done this fast, how will I stay busy the rest of my day?”

The tools this company is using today makes them a leader in a competitive services industry. It is anticipated that with this round of application improvements they will be in a position to reduce their sale price by 20% while increasing their profit by 15 to 20%. This strategic approach to business IT systems is driving significant competitive advantage. Their competitor, a solo service bloke who was once able to compete on price will question where his business went and the larger more strategic business will own the industry. This may be currently happening in your industry, would you know?

What is the potential in your business of harnessing strategic advantage via IT systems before your competitors do? Or on the flip side, what impact would it have on your business if your competitors deploy some kind of strategic leap? Would it cost you to either catch up or back out of your uncompetitive business?

Has your industry already been revolutionised by technology leaving you stubbornly holding on to your declining market share with the clients you have a good enough relationship with to hold your competitor at bay?

In the IT services industry it will not surprise you that innovation like this keeps occurring and that our services need to keep changing to be useful and competitive. It is only the use of current technologies and ongoing internal process improvement we are able to drive the following changes in our business:

Our records of support tickets handled over the last 100 days as at June 2013 vs June 2014:

  • Quick resolve tickets: 15 minutes reduced to 7 minutes per ticket
  • Medium resolve tickets: 30 minutes reduced to 15 minutes
  • Slow resolve tickets: 68 minutes reduced to 38 minutes
  • The number of tickets overall and in each category changed by less than 5%, so the total time spent resolving tickets reduced by over 40%.

The impact on our business has been to reduce staff stress levels, increase resource availability for project-based services, increase focus on education and time committed to education and exams and most importantly to improve customer perception of our customer service. This in turn has led to an improved net promoter score and a stronger tendency to refer us to new prospects. It has also enabled us to expand the company more efficiently.
So with this in mind, would a little of our IT strategy make sense as a part of your business plan for next financial year?