Planning the IT Strategy of an Engineering Firm

Chalkboard - Information Technology

Many AEC firms don’t think about information technology in strategic terms. They see IT as an everyday necessity or a cost—not something that needs strategic attention. However, the technologies that the companies use and the way they use them affect productivity, employee satisfaction, client and partner collaboration, and profitability. Planning IT strategically is not a futile exercise.

I just finished an IT strategy project with one of my clients, an engineering firm with around 500 employees. They knew that they would soon have to make several important and far-reaching IT decisions. Their strategy is to treat their clients as long-term partners and to offer superior service experiences through innovative use of information systems. They also have strong in-house IT development capabilities.

IT Decisions Are Business Value Decisions

Today IT decisions are not just about technology or cost; they must be made from the business-value point of view. Technology enables many new opportunities in the traditionally slow-moving industry for those who venture to take the lead. However, running after fads is not wise business.

In order to form a clearer picture of what must be done and what can be done, my client wanted to lay out a strategy for IT decision making and development initiatives.

The client expected the following outcomes from the strategy process:

  1. A comprehensible view of business needs for which IT can be a key enabler
  2. An overall plan of the architectures, services, and management models that allow IT to serve the company in an optimized manner
  3. A three-year roadmap of the necessary changes that are driven by the business strategy, operational and financial requirements, and technological development

The Strategy Process

The IT Strategy Process Model

The plan for the process consisted of the following tasks:

1) Study of needs, requirements, and opportunities

  • Definition of business-related goals and objectives, using the company’s business strategy as well as the innovation and development strategy as guiding principles
  • Study of operational business needs and expectations through interviews
  • Survey of technological scenarios and opportunities

2) Workshop on goals, opportunities, and key choices
3) Workshop on architectures (information, application, and technology)
4) Workshop on IT services, resources, and management
5) Roadmapping workshop

My client organized a project team with representatives from key business areas, R & D, and IT management. Several others were involved in the interviews. In addition to the workshops, we had preparatory meetings with smaller teams to make the workshops as efficient as possible.

To get ideas on where the industry is going in terms of the use of IT we conducted a web survey. We invited CIOs from global engineering firms to share their views on the future. All the respondents received the results of the survey after its completion.

The project started in January 2013 and was completed in April. I’ll present the questions that we deemed most critical during the process in my next blog post.