What it means to be a successful Multi-Academy Trust – The IT Strategy

In News by James

The IT Strategy. What is it? Do you need one? How do you go about writing one and how on Earth do you measure success against it?

I’ll do my best to keep this light-hearted. The trouble with defining strategies is that a great number of people confuse them for ‘plans’. To clear up this confusion, I will aim explain the two terms in as basic a way as possible, without trying to undermine your intelligence. This will hopefully enable you to explain it to those who need to create one!

Strategy’ = Why
Plan’ = How

So those are the real basics. Putting them into practise isn’t necessarily so easy, but I will discuss that later. Each of these documents are inter-dependent, especially when considering IT. Neither can work particularly well without the other. Imagine driving somewhere in a car; you have to know where you’re going (strategy) as well as which route to take (plan) to have an effective journey. That might be over simplifying things but you get the idea.

Now you may have various ‘IT plans’ throughout your MAT; these may cover depreciation & lifecycle, standardisation, security & safeguarding etc. Individually they are incredibly important, however, without an overarching master plan which delivers results in accordance to an IT ‘Strategy’, these plans can lose their potency, lack effectiveness and are often completely forgotten about. I’m sure there are a few people reading this who have had the ‘I thought we had a plan for this’ conversation with IT, only to discover that your plan is five years old and has not been looked at since it was created.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”

Yogi Berra

So what do you need from your ‘IT Strategy’? Here comes another dependent factor… The ‘IT Strategy’ is (or at least should be) designed to support the ‘Business Strategy’. If you don’t have a ‘Business Strategy’, you’ll find it difficult writing something worthwhile without including spurious concepts which sound great to the reader but lack any credibility. It sounds harsh, but if your MAT doesn’t have a business strategy, maybe this should be resolved first.

So you have the MAT Business Strategy in front of you, great! It’s time to break down those strategic points. If you’re looking a single sentence that says ‘Our mission is to provide great education’, with very little else, this is not a Strategy – back to the drawing board with that one I’m afraid.

I’ll stop being such a cynic and assume that you have indeed got a well formulated Business Strategy that is ripe for being supported by an IT Strategy.

How is technology going to help your MAT deliver on the promises made in its Business Strategy. Grab a highlighter, print out the Business Strategy and highlight all the verbs, I know it might sound silly but there is a method to my madness!

Now you have a list of actions; We WILL, We ARE etc. Similarly you can underline any AIMS or PROMISES. Take each one in turn and think about how IT can bolster that point. This might sound a little tedious and undermining but I’m absolutely serious, especially if you weren’t the one who wrote the Business Strategy.

Here are a couple of examples that illustrate the point quite nicely, the Mission & Values were borrowed from an existing MAT strategy that I found on Google:

Mission & Values

  • – Cooperate and collaborate
  • – Achieve excellence for all

IT Strategic Alignment

  • In this first example we have two objectives. What could IT do to enable these points? Both cooperation and collaboration are key selling points of Microsoft Office 365 and Google GSuite. Working together on documents from an Admin perspective or students working collaboratively on projects, whilst even learning from home…
  • Achieve excellence? This what I mean about being ambiguous – that’s great, be excellent, but what does that actually mean? How is it measured? Does being an ‘Outstanding’ school tick this box, if so then perhaps IT can help with this as well. Maybe check to see what areas of IT are judged during an Ofsted inspection and align to provide services against those criteria.

Hopefully you see where I’m going with this; you’ll ultimately end up with a high-level list of IT-based requirements, which forms the basis of your new IT Strategy, bravo. Enjoy the process; breaking down the requirements from IT when creating a workable strategy can be illuminating and fulfilling. You can discover that you’ve been doing things brilliantly without realising it, or it can highlight obvious improvements which will automatically have buy-in from the Board as they are ultimately based upon a requirement that the Board set out.

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