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How to create an IT strategic plan that delights
Customer stories, not technology, should star in your IT strategic plan. Map out those stories – prioritizing the customer pains you will soothe during the next few years
There’s a scene in the movie Office Space where one of the characters makes a mistake and has to answer to multiple supervisors and fill out multiple forms to fix it.
A similar scene was playing out at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and continues to play out at many universities in the world: When academic faculty entered grades, they were entered into one ERP system (the LMS system) and had to be submitted into another (the SIS system). Because the two systems didn’t talk to each other, faculty would have one system open in one window and the other system open in another window so they could carefully copy and paste each grade one at a time.
In a class of 300 students, that amounts to 900 mouse clicks and two hours of work. If they made a simple error in copying and pasting, the faculty had to submit a justification for the grade change for external approval. The process was tedious, and we were treating them like the most expensive typists on the planet. That process wasn’t something that delighted them—it stressed them out.
To fix the tedious process of submitting grades, my team built a button that automatically duplicates the grades in the other system. What took two hours now takes about 3 seconds; what was a stressful process is now stress-free. It delights our customers, and is a true example of a digital moment.
Fixing customer-centric problems like these one is the theme of our current strategic plan. We’ve built up a lot of emotional goodwill with our customers and wanted to take that to the next level. Our customers are just trying to accomplish tasks, and our job is to optimize their experiences while taking away the pain points.
To do this, we’re mapping out the stories of our customers and thinking about how we want them to read over the next four years. As a result, our strategic plan doesn’t focus on a lot of technology: Rather than leading with the technobabble in the vision, mission or value statements, we lead with the stories of our customers. The technology pieces live in the appendices of the strategic plan because, while they’re critically important to IT people, no one else cares about them.
This approach focuses instead on what everybody does understand, which is the story. They don’t care about APIs or cloud migration or cloud strategy, and they won’t care if we take the time to explain it to them. That’s wasted effort. They need to trust that we know what we’re doing in capturing their story and requirements in a meaningful way, and then link that story to budget, personnel, space, and time.
This is a significant paradigm shift in how you develop and present a strategic plan. Some traditional ones are written by one person or one department, then released to the university. Most sit on a shelf and collect dust, and people dread the process because they’ve become meaningless. You might generate some communications and marketing on the plans, but nothing effective comes from them. You need to follow them, execute on them, and deliver results.
There are strategic plans like ours that are crowdsourced from hundreds of people and with involvement from multiple committees and multiple towns to paint the full picture of everyone’s stories. We place all our focus on revenue growth, process optimization, then cost efficiency—and in that order. That’s how we delight.
Our aim isn’t to satisfy or comply. We want to execute on our customers’ ideal interaction, create opportunities to deploy artificial intelligence, and create opportunities to re-envision the realm of possibilities. We’re competing in a world that’s changing exponentially—one in which the people who win are the people who are delighted. The people who are merely satisfied will be passed by. Delight is the only thing that will win; if you’re satisfying, then you’re just treading water while others are moving forward.