CXO

4 ways to manage an overwhelming number of IT initiatives

The average CIO faces an almost debilitating number of choices of where to spend his or her IT dollars. Here are suggestions on how to focus on the right initiatives.

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After years of contraction and economic malaise, not only is the economy recovering, but IT is in a technology renaissance, the likes of which we haven't seen in a decade. In many cases, CIOs can't spool up projects fast enough, and it seems like everyone from the Chief Marketing Officer to more traditional partners such as the COO and CFO are banging on the door with a fully-funded project that's ready to go. Here are suggestions on how to manage the flood of initiatives.

Keep your door open

While it may be tempting to simply stop entertaining new initiatives, this course of action is fraught with risk. Many IT services can now be provisioned with little more than a credit card, and any gaps can be filled by armies of willing consultants. Hanging out a metaphorical "No room at the inn" sign may cause constituents to go elsewhere.

Furthermore, technology is changing very rapidly, and a new initiative may invalidate one or more existing initiatives. A new cloud service being requested by operations could eliminate a costly application upgrade or reporting tool, just as a new request by marketing could finally gain support for a less exciting, but dependent, infrastructure upgrade.

Seek to unify

A longstanding challenge for IT leaders has been balancing standardization with flexibility. One of the major risks in times of plentiful funding is chasing "shiny things" and ending up with a disjointed and disconnected environment that's wildly complex and difficult to support.

You should consider potential projects more broadly than just asking the question "Do they fit into my technology stack?" Ensure your portfolio of projects is also meeting the organization's strategic objectives. Maintaining your status as an "[Insert Vendor Here] Shop" might be interesting to the technically-minded, but it will mean nothing when your CEO starts wondering why IT can't accelerate his or her key strategic initiatives.

Maintain a portfolio mindset

If you invest in a dozen multi-year projects and there are no results, patience will likely wane. If you invest solely in the short-term, you may miss a key foundational component that derails your grand plan.

Much as a financial planner structures an investment portfolio with high- and low-risk investments and short- and long-term returns, this is how you should structure your IT portfolio. The best companies ensure their IT spending is allocated across bread and butter infrastructure projects, growth platforms, and high-risk, R&D type projects. Also, just as a financial investor is constantly rebalancing a portfolio, you should periodically adjust your project portfolio.

Articulate your vision

You'll never be able to satisfy everyone who shows up at your door with an idea for an initiative, but you'll have an easier time if you can articulate a short-, medium-, and long-term vision for how various ongoing initiatives fit within the larger organizational strategy. This can provide some cover when saying no to an initiative and building a case against rogue or shadow IT efforts to bypass IT altogether. It can also allow you to incorporate infrastructure and less glamorous elements into the business projects they support.

Summary

When money and projects are free flowing, it can be tempting to take on too many initiatives, or to say yes to a disjointed basket of "cool stuff" that's interesting to stakeholders, but ultimately results in IT services that are unrelated to the overarching company strategy.

Much like a portfolio of retirement investments, your portfolio of IT initiatives represents an investment in the future of your organization. Manage this portfolio well, and you'll be rewarded.

About Patrick Gray

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

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