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The dilemma: Planning ahead

Prioritising what to do next is a difficult balancing act, according to Mark Samuels.

future road sign

"You've left it too late if you're planning now for 2014," responded a CIO when I asked him recently about his priorities for next year.

I was a bit surprised by his response. Experience suggests the final part of the year always coincides with a gamut of analyst reports and magazine articles that poll CIOs on the next year's spending priorities.

So, I thought it was reasonable to assume the turn towards autumn would coincide witha look forward to the aims and objectives for 2014. But the flurry of editorial predictions in the latter part of each year is, in essence, a coda to already-completed work.

Modern CIOs engage with line-of-business peers months in advance. They generally ask their colleagues to identify business priorities. IT projects are then established that help the business achieve its aims from the available budget.

In short, any CIO worth their salt is thinking way in advance of the next quarter or calendar year. The CIO I spoke to suggested IT leaders now need to be thinking about what will be happen in 2015 and even 2016, rather than the next calendar year.

Foresight on spending plans seems an intractable challenge in the information age. Such farsightedness flies in the face of established wisdom about IT strategy, which suggests it is impossible to plan with certainty in an era characterised by consumerisation, choice and change.

But CIOs must grapple with the dual demands of forward planning and constant change. By engaging with the business, and asking executive peers to set their expectations for technology, CIOs move the emphasis on IT leadership from top-down control to democratised governance.

There will always be room for new priorities. In fact, the fast pace of IT change means CIOs must be open to new ideas. By working with the business to lay down laws and objectives, technology chiefs can develop a mechanism to monitor the menace of shadow IT.

CIOs can use such farsighted planning to establish which systems are implemented where and when, rather than discovering after the event that employees have already implemented non-approved apps.

IT leaders simply cannot stand in the way of change. But it's also not in their interests to act as a barrier to transformation. By engaging with peers to plan long-term priorities, CIOs can help the business take a timely approach to technology trends.

Dr Mark Samuels is editor at advisory organisation CIO Connect. He examines the future role of the IT leader each month in his regular column. 

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