The main goal of an IT service strategy is to encourage the IT support team to think about why something is to be done before thinking about how best to do it. In doing so, you will be helping to identify what services should be delivered, efficiently allocate resources and resolve conflicting demands for shared resources. But what an IT service strategy can really help IT managers with, is making a case for strategic investment.
IT service strategy
As an IT manager you have undoubtedly dabbled in coding if not become quite proficient. As such you probably learnt long ago that before you jump on the keyboard and start coding you should identify the requirements, plan and structure what you are going to code.
The same discipline applies to college infrastructure projects and services. Whether it’s to refresh an existing technical solution or embarking on a newbuild project it’s vital that you can demonstrate that the proposed solutions are strategically aligned.
It may be that your organisation already has a digital strategy, teaching & learning strategy, corporate strategy and estates strategy, but does it have an IT service strategy? If not, now might well be the time to change this.
The purpose of an IT service strategy is to identify what elements of all these organisational strategies the IT service aims to support. Few colleges fully embrace the IT infrastructure library (ITIL) framework but taking some elements such as the ‘IT service strategy’ and adapting it to suit your particular needs will help give a structure and alignment between your organisational goals and your IT spending. This will result in a more efficient IT service management process.
To leverage senior leadership support and, gain access to funding for new projects it’s important to be able to communicate effectively why your proposed projects should be considered. To this end, this blog introduces a few ideas on what an IT service strategy is, how it might be structured and how you might go about developing one.
Developing an IT service strategy
The development of an IT service strategy should not be the sole responsibility of the IT manager in isolation, but rather a collaboration of IT champions and stakeholders from across the college community.
An IT service strategy is a document that lays out what services the IT department deliver referencing other institutional strategies and policies to show why. The service strategy is made up of a hierarchy of elements:
- A strategic aim is usually aspirational but should always reference elements found in the corporate strategy, teaching and learning or digital campus strategies. For example, ‘create a safe learning environment’, ‘financial efficiency’ or ‘sustainability’ usually an IT strategy would have no more than 5 or 6 strategic aims.
- A strategic objective is more tangible, measurable and should always identify what strategic aim it supports. For example, it identifies a key performance indicator like systems availability or reduced tech support waiting times. There are
often several objectives to support a single strategic aim. It does not usually explain the practicalities of how this is to be achieved as that is operational planning. It should however be realistic and achievable.
IT steering group
You might find it useful to form an IT service strategy steering group with representation from stakeholders with the remit of identifying IT strategic aims each supported by realistic objectives and charged with oversight of its implementation. Each IT objective can then reference what strategy (teaching & learning, estates or corporate strategy) and strategic aim it supports.
The IT strategy steering group would normally meet quarterly to help refine requirements, evaluate progress on implementation, and offer guidance and support to the IT manager. The Jisc guide ‘How to shape your digital strategy’ can also be used to inform the process for developing an IT service strategy, just with different goals in mind.
Strategic Implementation and operational planning
To help gain senior management support and justify expenditure on planned projects such as network or server refresh projects, it is often a requirement that a business case is presented, within this it should be possible to demonstrate strategic alignment.
Once you have identified the strategic aims and their supporting objectives as described above you can then develop an operational plan in collaboration with the IT technical team. This will involve taking each strategic objective in the IT service strategy in turn, identifying the most appropriate technical solution or operational tactic to deploy. It may include an equipment refresh plan.
Decisions on large scale solutions or projects can also be taken in collaboration with the IT steering group to ensure a wider sense of ownership, acceptance and therefore, easier implementation, not to mention greater credibility when presented to senior management.
Operational Planning cycle
As each technical solution or project is identified it should reference which IT service strategic objective it supports. As part of a planning cycle where operational tactics and service level agreements are evaluated on a regular basis, it helps to use a service catalogue where each service the IT department delivers references what IT service strategic objective it supports. A service catalogue can also be used to show resource requirements and any service interdependencies.
Using a service catalogue in this way it can be used to demonstrate how IT services are strategically aligned and therefore more likely to be approved for funding.
Making the case for investment
As an IT manager you may have need to refresh some aspect of the institutional infrastructure that’s outwith the normal capital expenditure budget. Making a strong case to justify your recommendations is vital.
To help you do this a well written business case to present to senior management will give you some much needed credibility download template here. Within the ‘reasons’ section of this template, you would reference the strategic objectives that the technology supports, demonstrating strategic alignment. You may also reference not just the IT service strategy but any other related corporate strategies and policies that the proposed technology will support. This will help senior management better understand why they should support your proposal.
Within the ‘business options’ section of the template, where if you do nothing, you may want to include risks such as exposure to data security breaches as legacy technology cannot be patched with the latest firmware updates etc.
You may wish to go further and present a project brief which goes into more detail on how you plan to implement the proposed technology outlining any resources and skills required. This is especially important if you have a large and complex campus refresh project that can be separated in smaller more manageable sub-projects where a project brief for each sub-project is ideal.
Following these steps should result in a more structured approach to IT service management, ensuring that operational IT planning and expenditure is aligned with the wider direction of the organisation. Doing so will maximise the chances of success for any such request for investment and will enhance efficiency.
Further related materials and guides
Business case template
Project brief template
How to shape your digital strategy (Jisc guide)
Implementing plans (Jisc guide)
Further Education Capital Transformation Fund (guidance for applicants)