In April 2015, the Harvard CIO Council revised their IT Strategic Plan.  You can find their online plan here or you can download a copy here.

The following analysis is offered as a comparison of the referenced plan and the framework used for Blueprint.  The thinking behind Blueprint is largely a combination of Enterprise Architecture methodologies and some Business Motivation Model concepts.  As with all strategic plans, given that there is no industry standard and accepted framework, such analysis is purely the opinion of the Purmea team.  To understand the Blueprint concepts, please refer here to get background context and explanation.  

At a Glance

In 2015, the Harvard CIO Council updated their existing strategic plan to incorporate and react to what they highlight as new trends and demands (e.g., Increased experimentation in teaching and learning).  They reiterated a focus to the University’s institutional priorities (e.g., “One Harvard”), and they modified their list of initiatives to reflect those drivers (e.g., “Data for Learning Analytics”).  So, on the whole, they have attempted to demonstrate the linkage from the institutional priorities, through to their principles and strategies through to their large projects and programs.  For many organizations, this part never happens and so I suspect that the Harvard IT teams will derive some benefit from a sense of direction and context regarding their work.  However, there are some gaps.  Below, I’ll compare the structure of the plan against the thinking that supports Blueprint.

Highlights

The Harvard plan is largely in narrative form, likely intended for peer groups and leadership as a way of communicating a focused direction and future thinking.  While we’re uncertain as to a companion plan just for the internal teams, our experience indicates that such an internal-facing plan likely doesn’t exist.  This could be the first gap.  So without such knowledge, we will presume that this plan has been used to communicate and focus the internal team members as well.

The culmination of the plan ends in the presentation of the “Financial Implications”.  While money is of key importance, there is a lack of explanation of the rationale behind the selected strategies (e.g., Enterprise Architecture).  Instead, there are a few statements tying said strategies back to previous labels likely from an “accounting” perspective.

The motivations (or “why”) for selecting specific influences, strategies and initiatives is largely missing which may challenge individuals (peer groups or team members) in truly tying their work to institutional value.

Below is a more detailed breakdown of the Harvard CIO Council’s strategic plan updates compared against the structure that we recommend through Blueprint.

Foundations (your core business process/functions and significant influences)

Harvard’s CIO Council’s strategic plan update highlights a number of influences that impacted or shaped their planning.  These included:

  • Emerging Trends in Education and Technology
  • Harvard Priorities
  • Harvard IT Vision
  • Organizational Enablers
  • Organizational Barriers
  • Guiding Principles
  • Common Platforms

So the good is that these influencing forces were called out and addressed.  However, there wasn’t any sense provided of these influences having more or less influence on their plan.  In other words, in all text, they are considered similarly, but practicality demands that some things take precedence.  We would suspect “Harvard Priorities” outweighs significance on decision-making when compared to or in potential conflict with “Guiding Principles”.  Taking a moment to clarify priority would be helpful.

In addition, no business functions were listed in this report.  This isn’t odd in and of itself given the likely target audience.  However, if this report is also used, as we suspect, internally within IT, there would be value in calling out appropriately leveled functions such as “Project Planning”, “Project Execution”, “User Support”, etc., with appropriately described priorities and level of significance.

Directions (your strategies, the reasons for those strategies and how you’ll measure success)

When it comes to your strategies, you often know why and how you intend to accomplish them.  Blueprint “Directions” link the outcomes and milestones to your strategies so that others can understand them as well.  This also offers clarity in that desired outcomes without any strategy behind them can be recognized and prioritized.

While the Harvard strategic plan update does highlight organizational strategies (i.e., Vendor Management, Enterprise Architecture, Information Security, IT Business Continuity / Disaster Recovery, and User Experience, Mobile & Accessibility), there is no description of them, making it a bit difficult for people to understand what is meant by each of these.

In addition to the missing descriptions of each approach/strategy, there is no explicit list of outcomes (reasons why these strategies are being employed) or milestones that describe how these strategies or outcomes would be measured.  Without outcomes and milestones, there is a significant portion of the “thinking” that is missing making it more difficult for staff and peers to understand the context.

Given each of the missing or deficient elements above, there is no linkage to understand how a particular approach supports a particular motivation or outcome within the organization.

Portfolio (your projects and initiatives that pursue your strategies)

The Financial Implications section of the plan lays out approximately $118M in spending over 5+ years (2014 – 2018+) across a variety of initiatives.  While we don’t know the overall budget for the CIO Council, we could likely presume that $118M is a significant portion of the overall budget.

While it was refreshing to see a strategic plan with actual projects focused on desired domains, what was missing was an understanding of how any particular project contributed to success as it was defined earlier in the report.  One is left to assume connectivity or have heard a narrative from one of the CIOs that indicates connectivity.  So again, for the internal team or fellow peers, there isn’t a way to understand the value of a particular investment and how it directly contributes.

In addition to this deficiency, there are initiatives that are labeled exactly as the strategies are labeled (e.g., “Enterprise Architecture”) but without any funding specified or requested and with a timeline that’s less than the overall planning period.  So it is concerning to see a strategy listed as a project and moreover a project without funding.  We would presume there’s an explanation, but it isn’t clear from the report.

Summary

While the CIO Council at Harvard has done some great work in laying out their thinking with regard to future work to reflect on trends and pressures in an effort to support overall priorities, there are some significant gaps in the plan that will likely make it seem ethereal to the CIOs’ peers and quite loose to the various IT teams.  With some additional work, many of these loose associations could be remedied to better cement the thinking in the minds of others.

Postscript

We’ve built the CIO Council’s strategic plan update in Blueprint.  If you’d like a copy, please register for a trial account of Blueprint and then contact Help to request a copy.  We’ll happily provide it to you for your reference and review.

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