“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
For any technology department, group, or organization to be successful long-term, they must develop and use a plan. This plan is often referred to as a technology roadmap. When designed and used correctly, it can be a helpful tool for aligning resources, setting priorities, and communicating with relevant stakeholders.
A roadmap can help ensure everyone understands the priorities and remains focused on the right tasks. As the demand for health IT solutions continues to increase, it can be overwhelming for the staff to keep up with project requests — and an increased workload. Just as a rudder can help steer a sailboat when the wind hits the sails, a roadmap can be used to ensure the team stays on course, even in the midst of difficulty and change.
Additionally, a roadmap can be an excellent tool for technology leaders to use when working with the business. Stakeholders can review the roadmap to understand when various projects are scheduled to start and when they will be completed. This can enable IT leaders be more customer-focused by answering questions more definitively. It’s always easier to plan if we understand when as opposed to not knowing dates or timeframes. Having projects listed on a roadmap can also reinforce to stakeholders that their requests are being taken seriously, and there’s a plan to address their needs.
While a technology roadmap can look very different from organization to organization, there are some key elements it must have to be successful:
- Alignment with the Business
A technology roadmap must align with the business objectives for it to be effective. This is one of the reasons why it is so essential for the CIO to be a part of the strategic planning process.
A roadmap developed in a vacuum, without taking into account the strategic objectives of the organization, is doomed to fail.
An effective roadmap requires active input from all key stakeholders, not just clinical or administrative. Without this, it can become skewed toward a specific area or initiative. For example, an organization can focus solely on clinical areas while ignoring other critical needs such as HR systems, supply chain, etc. CIOs must avoid focusing on specific IT projects while excluding others. I’ve seen examples where CIOs become so engrossed in their “favorite” projects that other essential areas such as IT infrastructure or security are neglected (much to the future detriment of the organization).
- Easy to Understand
For any plan (technology or otherwise) to be effective, it must be easy to understand. Technology can be confusing enough for those outside of IT without adding “tech speak” to the mix.
Ideally, you should be able to present the same roadmap to the Board of Directors as you would to various stakeholders in your organization. One way to ensure clarity is to determine what projects are important, and exclude all others. At any given time, IT teams can easily have 100-plus projects in-flight or queued up. If each of these projects are added to the list, it will become too cluttered, and important initiatives can get lost.
One thing is for certain in healthcare, and that is change.
If your roadmap is so rigid that it does not allow for change, it will quickly become stale and ineffective.
It’s important not to become so strict that a plan ends up taking precedence over the business objectives that may have changed along the way. If the plan gets out of lockstep with the business, the plan needs to realign — not the other way around. Technology enables the business objectives, and the roadmap should reflect this at all times.
Because healthcare changes so rapidly, it is important to review the roadmap and make any necessary updates. Depending on your organization, this could be every month, quarter or year. It’s especially important during budget planning season to make sure the budget aligns with the plan for the next year. If budgets change, the roadmap will likely need to be updated to reflect the new fiscal reality.
Technology roadmaps are an essential communication tool for CIOs. Success takes careful planning, along with the ability to remain nimble in the face of change. This is especially true in an industry that’s driven by both internal and external pressures. To quote Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”
This piece was originally posted on CIO Reflections, a blog created by Michael Saad, VP and CIO at University of Tennessee Medical Center. HIs diverse career path also includes leadership roles with TrustPoint Solutions and Henry Ford Health System. To follow him on Twitter, click here.