The SWOT+4 Planning Model

Information Management/Technology (IM/IT) is expensive. As well, the advantages it provides are fleeting and easy to imitate (or worse steal). An organization must strategically and operationally plan for its investments in IM/IT. The problem is, what exactly should be in the Strategic or Operational plan, and what are the questions the plans are trying to answer?

Over the past 20+ years I have being pondering these questions. Being a visual person, I have developed what I am calling the SWOT+4 IM/IT Planning Model. It is a bit busy but here it goes. At the centre is the SWOT matrix. Overlaying the SWOT matrix are the four-central IM/IT questions and on top of the questions are the respective planning tools to answer the questions.

SWOT+4 Planning Model

SWOT+4 Planning Model

At the core of the SWOT+4 model are the organization’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This 2×2 matrix is a mainstay of strategic analysis. Although familiar to virtually everyone, in brief it is a method to view a situation from two key dimensions: internal versus external and positive versus negative. For example, Strengths are internal-positive attributes whereas Threats represents the external-negative possibilities.

Unfortunately, the SWOT tool is incomplete when it comes to evaluating an organization’s IM/IT. For example, is a change of technology an opportunity or a threat? Are the existing IM/IT systems a strength or a weakness? The answer to both questions is – it depends. As a result, I have used a Four Question Model for IM/IT Planning over the years as an analysis checklist. In order of priority the questions are:

  1. ORGANIZATIONAL PLAN: What is important (e.g. priorities, plans and strategies) to the organization? This is at the centre of the model and crosses all four SWOT considerations. Included in this question are things like the organization’s vision, its mission, business plan(s), budgets and all things strategic.
  2. ORGANIZATIONAL IM/IT: How can/does/should IM/IT support or impede what is important to the organization; does the organization have the right IM/IT and if not, when will it get it? This is an internal consideration although it touches the external dimensions of the SWOT model to represent amongst other things benchmarking and industry best practice. This question is ideally answered by both the strategic documents discussed above and the IT Department’s operational plan(s).
  3. IM/IT CAPACITY: How well does the organization DO IM/IT, is it getting better, worse or about the same? What about the fleet of applications or physical resources; is the organization still running Windows 3.1, Office 95 or has it been able to adopt leading/bleeding edge technologies. How about the organization’s Bespoke and COTS applications, are they on current versions or getting long in the tooth? These questions are internal considerations for the organization.
  4. IM/IT FUTURE: What is on the organizational event horizon that will affect or change the above? There are both threats and opportunities in this respect for an organization. Hacker activists, lower technology costs, legislation (e.g. privacy or technical) and changing industry standards are all examples of future changes that may be positive or negative.

Finally two typical planning tools are overlaid on the SWOT and 4 questions. The bottom and foundation is the organization’s business or strategic plan. IM/IT may have its own strategic plan or it may piggy back on a larger corporate plan. Irrespective, the plan should be able to answer the questions of (q1) what is important and (q4) what is on the horizon for the organization? The IM/IT operational plan focuses on the questions of (q3) current capacity and (q2) near term organizational IM/IT activities.

The delineation between the plans is not clear and ideally they should overlap each other rather than having a gap. The operational plan purposely extends into the Threat quadrant of the organization and the Business Plan relies on organizational strengths to capitalize on opportunities in the environment.

Beyond the Box

What do you think? Is the SWOT+4 Planning Model a muddled mess or does it provide a conceptual basis in which your organization can begin to structure its IM/IT planning. What is the value proposition to understanding and using the model well? I believe the model can support faster technology adoption, lower cost of implementation and ownership and better leveraging of IM/IT assets. Stay tuned as I am hoping to drill in a bit more into the model in future blogs. For example:

  • How a lifecycle approach can be used to measure IM/IT Capacity (q3)
  • The roles and technologies involved in delivering Organizational IM/IT (q2)
  • How much IM/IT should be in an organizational plan (q1), and
  • Where to buy a good crystal ball for the IM/IT Future (q4).