IT Planning: How Far into the Future Can You Prepare?

With the rate of technological change, how do you balance agility against preparedness?

Any business knows the importance of a good plan. Without strategic direction, many companies subject themselves to ad-hoc IT development by default, with upgrades and new additions happening as necessary, but often with little review as to how they fit together with the whole system, and with little analysis as to which solution will provide the most long-term benefits.

When businesses operate this way, an IT problem, such as a set of computers that need upgrading, will be addressed in one of two ways: either the company opts for the cheapest, shot-term solution (which usually becomes obsolete faster and needs replacing sooner), or they invest in the most expensive solution (which lasts longer, but not necessarily long enough to justify the expense).

On the other hand, some businesses go too far in the other direction. They spend months generating a detailed IT development plan which they hope will last five to ten years. Unfortunately, by the time the plan is released and implemented, the market has changed. The systems they’ve invested in are no longer top of the line, and they only grow more dated over time.

Worst of all, businesses which adhere too rigidly to these plans are left with little flexibility to take advantage of emerging technologies. A business which, in 2006, tried to predict its technological needs ten years into the future would have completely missed the rise of smart phones and the growing predominance of social media.

With a clear need to prepare, and yet an inability to see the future, how can business create an effective IT plan?

Start with the low-hanging fruit.

To make things easy, businesses should start by upgrading the “easy wins” that are most likely to bear quick and measurable ROI. If you know that your business needs to upgrade to a faster wired internet connection, and that doing so will have a direct impact on productivity, improved sales, and customer service, then there’s no need to wait on that upgrade while the business assesses the rest of its IT strategy.

For projects that may not show positive ROI for several months (or more), it makes sense to move slowly. But if you expect the upgrade to start showing positive results in a fast enough turn-around time, then the risk of a misstep is much lower. Better to make the upgrade and reap the early rewords, then determine if a second upgrade is required at a later date.

Think beyond hardware and software.

For most businesses, IT planning typically begins and ends with hardware and software. But there are actually many components that businesses should consider when preparing for the future. Here are just a few.

Cloud Applications

Cloud applications fall into an odd middle ground between hardware and software advances. Because they exist in the cloud, they typically have a different series of license agreements and a different update schedule. And yet there is often a hardware component as well, as when companies must decide what hosting and backup solutions to choose for their business.

Clearly, organizations should asses cloud applications just as thoroughly as their hardware and software counterparts.

Infrastructure

Infrastructure upgrades can range in scope and complexity, from an upgraded Internet connection to rewiring an office’s IT hookups or transferring data from internal company servers to a cloud environment.

Planning for IT infrastructure is most important when building or moving into a new space, as these are the moments when changes to the building’s structure and design can be incorporated with least expense and disruption.

Vendor Relationships

Many businesses turn to trusted IT vendors in moments of transition or crisis, as when their current IT teams are overwhelmed or when they require specialized services to help them work with an unusual problem.

IT planning should consider how best to work with vendors, especially if they are a first response team in case of an IT emergency.

Human Resources and Training

New technologies bring with them other costs that are easy to overlook, such as those of hiring a new team member to help manage the technology, or of training team members to use the upgraded system.

To manage these costs, IT plans should also consider what team members might be affected by new hardware or software, how much training those team members will require, and how long the new software will be in use before the next round of updates and training.

Disaster Planning

Disaster planning is a bit paradoxical, in that the purpose of an IT plan is to prevent disaster, and yet no plan is complete without contingencies for what to do if things go wrong. Disaster planning is a critical part of IT planning, but, like every other aspect, it’s not a “once and done” endeavor. You will need to revisit your IT disaster plan as your systems upgrade to ensure it is still effective.

How well can you iterate?

What becomes clear from looking at the diverse elements which must be incorporated into an IT plan is that these plans cannot be set in stone. Instead businesses should view their IT plans as iterative, with regular reviews to ensure the plan continues to meet business needs.

While businesses can expect individual aspects of their IT plan to last for a certain number of years with a reasonable degree of certainty, no plan can predict new technological breakthroughs. The best you can do is maneuver your business into the best position to take advantage of new developments as they arise.

Agile IT planning positions businesses for success.

If you need help planning for IT, we can assist you. We offer a free network assessment as part of our initial consultation, and our services include remote monitoring and maintenance, backup and recovery, and cloud integration. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you plan for success.

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