Six Stages of IT Strategic Management

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The management literature is full of valuable strategic planning methodologies for information technology (IT).1 Nonetheless, a survey of eighty organizations found that IT planners were not satisfied with their methodologies, that planning required too many resources, that top management commitment was not easily obtained, and that only 24 percent of the projects recommended in a plan were ultimately executed.2

We have grappled with these issues many times as we have tried to help organizations apply the vast array of suggestions. Over the years, we have organized the different issues arising in IT strategic planning into a structured framework. In this paper, we will present and illustrate this framework, a comprehensive IT strategic planning methodology that incorporates many of the suggestions offered in the literature and the results of our own field experiences.

Conditions for Effective IT Strategic Management

Many authors have studied the conditions that need to be in place for an IT strategic planning process to be effective. Boynton and Zmud argue that twenty issues are critical for effective IT planning efforts.3 Nine of these issues must be addressed in the planning agenda: internal politics, internal market, business strategy, business market, technology, organizational learning, organizational culture, IT infrastructure, and IT risk taking. Eleven issues relate to the planning process itself. It should be iterative and hierarchical, that is, involving managers at all levels. It should consider multiple time horizons, focus on action, commit participants and establish a planning team, elicit an organizational IT mission, consider organizational and environmental events, identify strategic opportunities and assumptions, and prioritize strategic options.

Boynton and Zmud conclude that the literature has not given enough attention to the following:

  • analyzing the internal culture;
  • addressing politics and the distribution of power;
  • determining the capabilities to accept, use, and institutionalize IT;
  • evaluating IT risks;
  • making sure that key members of the organization buy into the planning effort;
  • identifying and communicating the organizational role of IT;
  • identifying and responding to crucial organizational events; and
  • identifying the planning participants’ assumptions.

At a more general level, Hax and Majluf state that planning that is isolated from other managerial processes and top management concerns is misguided.4 This is a key issue: IT must be framed as part of the corporation’s overall management process. IT strategic planning is not a purely technical process, handled by IT specialists, but a managerial procedure that involves the organization as a whole.


1. Some of the most well-known strategy methodologies for IT are as follows:

W.M. Zani, “Blueprint for MIS,” Harvard Business Review, November–December 1970, pp. 95–100;

D.G. Gibson and R.L. Nolan, “Managing the Four Stages of EDP Growth,” Harvard Business Review, January–February 1974, pp. 76–88;

IBM, Business Systems Planning; Information Systems Planning Guide (New York: IBM, 1984);

E. McLean and J. Soden, eds., Strategic Planning for MIS (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1977);

W.R. King, “Strategic Planning for Management Information Systems,” MIS Quarterly 2 (1978): 27–37.

J.F. Rockart, “Chief Executives Define Their Own Data Needs,” Harvard Business Review, March–April 1979, pp. 81–93;

J.C. Henderson, J.F. Rockart, and J.G. Sifonis, “A Planning Methodology for Integrating Management Support Systems into Strategic Information Systems Planning,” Journal of Management Information Systems 4 (1987): 5–24;

W. Synott and W. Gruber, Information Resource Management; Opportunities and Strategies for the 1980s (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1981);

M.E. Porter and V.E. Millar, “How Information Gives You Competitive Advantage,” Harvard Business Review, July–August 1985, pp. 149–161; and

V.J. Bakos and M.E. Treacy, “Information Technology and Corporate Strategy: A Research Perspective,” MIS Quarterly 10 (1986): 107–119.

See also Lederer and Mendelow, who stress the importance of top management commitment, and Henderson and Sifonis and Henderson and Venkatraman, who refer to the need to link or align the IT strategy to the business strategy:

A.L. Lederer and A.L. Mendelow, “Information Resource Planning: Overcoming Difficulties in Identifying Management’s Objectives,” MIS Quarterly 11 (1987): 389–399;

A.L. Lederer and A.L. Mendelow, “Convincing Top Management of the Strategic Potential of Information Systems,” MIS Quarterly 12 (1988): 525–534;

J.C. Henderson and J.G. Sifonis, “The Value of Strategic IS Planning: Understanding Consistency, Validity, and IS Markets,” MIS Quarterly 12 (1988): 187–199; and

J.C. Henderson and N. Venkatraman, “Understanding Strategic Alignment,” Business Quarterly, Winter 1991.

2. A.L. Lederer and V. Sethi, “The Implementation of Strategic Information Systems Planning Methodologies,” MIS Quarterly 12 (1988): 445–461.

3. A.C. Boynton and R.W. Zmud, “Information Technology Planning in the 1990s: Directions for Practice and Research,” MIS Quarterly 11 (1987): 59–71.

4. A. Hax and N. Majluf, The Strategy Concept and Process: A Pragmatic Approach (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1991).

5. See Hax and Majluf (1991) for a comprehensive discussion of strategic management in business firms.

6. Hax and Majluf (1991).

7. P.G.W. Keen, Shaping the Future (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1991).

8. These definitions are taken from Hax and Majluf (1991).

9. Although there is no universal set of such indices, we can classify them into two major categories. The first includes quantitative financial measures that relate to size, growth, profitability, capital markets, and a host of other financial variables. The second group measures the overall efficiency of the firm’s managerial functions, in particular, human resources, technology, procurement, manufacturing, and marketing. Incorporating these functional measures at the corporate level is relevant whenever we deal with centralized functions. Otherwise, the functional measure should become part of either divisional or business performance indicators, depending on where the function resides within the organization.

10. Hax and Majluf (1991).

11. A.E. Kovacevic, G. Cortázar, N. Majluf, and M. Schroeder, Tecnologías de Información para la industria bancaria: descripción de la oferta internacional (Santiago, Chile: Sonda Publications, 1989).

12. A more complete review of the literature for different methodologies that view information technologies as a source for changing the industry structure can be found in:

A.E. Kovacevic, N. Majluf, and G. Cortázar, “Strategic Impact of Information Technologies: A Review of the Literature and a Categorization of Methodologies” (Los Angeles: John E. Anderson Graduate School of Management, University of California - Los Angeles, Information Systems Working Paper No. 6089, April 1989).

13. M.E. Porter, Competitive Strategy (New York: Free Press, 1980).

14. Porter and Millar (1985).

15. F.W. McFarlan, “Information Technology Changes the Way You Compete,” Harvard Business Review, May–June 1984, pp. 98–103.

16. C. Wiseman and I.C. MacMillan, “Creating Competitive Weapons from Information Systems,” Journal of Business Strategy, Fall 1984, pp. 42–49.

17. G. Learmonth and B. Ives, “Information System Technology Can Improve Customer Service,” Data Base, Winter 1987, pp. 6–10.

18. J.I. Cash and B.R. Konsynski, “IS Redraws Competitive Boundaries,” Harvard Business Review, March–April 1985, pp. 134–142.

19. T.H. Davenport and J.E. Short, “The New Industrial Engineering: Information Technology and Business Process Redesign,” Sloan Management Review, Summer 1990, pp. 11–27; and

M. Hammer, “Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate,” Harvard Business Review, July–August 1990, pp. 104–112.

20. Porter and Millar (1985).

21. J.I. Cash, F.W. McFarlan, and J.L. McKenney, Corporate Information Systems Management (Homewood, Illinois: Richard D. Irwin, 1985).

22. D.I. Teece, “Capturing Value from Technological Innovation: Integration, Strategy Partnering, and Licensing Decisions,” Interfaces, May–June 1988, pp. 46–61.

23. See, for example,

E.M. von Simson, “The ‘Centrally Decentralized’ IS Organization,” Harvard Business Review, July–August 1990, pp. 158–162.

24. Keen (1991).

25. On the use of options for evaluating strategic opportunities, see:

S.C. Myers, “Finance Theory and Financial Strategy,” Interfaces, January–February 1984, pp. 126–137;

W.C. Kester, “Today’s Options for Tomorrow’s Growth,” Harvard Business Review, March–April 1984, pp. 153–160; and

P. Barwise, P.R. Marsh, and R. Wensley, “Must Finance and Strategy Clash?” Harvard Business Review, September–October 1989, pp. 85–90.

26. For a review of the use of portfolio matrices, see:

Hax and Majluf (1991), pp. 161–204; and

A. Hax and N. Majluf, Strategic Management: An Integrative Perspective (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1984), pp. 108–260.

27. Hax and Majluf (1991).

28. J.C. Henderson, “Plugging into Strategic Partnerships: The Critical IS Connection,” Sloan Management Review, Spring 1990, pp. 7–18.

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