Developing an Enterprise Technology Strategy: Questions to Ask

min read

Expert guidance can help identify key questions to ask, which can surface the information needed to develop a comprehensive technology strategy.

Jumbled pile of colorful question marks.
Credit: Vlad_Chorniy / © 2020

Strategies and goals arise in response to the questions we ask ourselves and others, as well as the questions others ask us. These questions provide a framework and focus to our information gathering and inform the development of effective enterprise strategies. Knowing which questions to ask is essential as IT leadership develops a vision for enterprise technology. This blog post provides questions to consider and can be used by IT leaders as a starting point for initiating crucial conversations with institutional and IT leadership.

Institutional and enterprise technology strategies need to be tightly linked. When an academic institution develops its strategies and goals, it should review and clarify its purpose, consider its core values, and set the overall vision for the institution. Achieving the vision requires the institution to establish supporting strategies, goals, and objectives. The process for developing these strategies requires the institution to engage the expertise of its constituents and stakeholders and to examine environmental forces affecting the institution. Through developing an understanding of critical tensions, issues, and success factors, the institution is able to produce an overall strategy that will guide its decision-making into the future.

The enterprise technology strategy needs to stem directly from and align with that institutional strategy. Building this strategy provides a comprehensive framework of how the IT team aligns the institution's enterprise objectives and operations with optimal technology solutions, as well as an operating model outlining how the IT division manages its own performance to achieve the enterprise's objectives. Developing a successful strategy requires IT leaders to take a holistic approach to understand how to plan technology investments that will support the purpose, vision, and strategies of the institution. IT leadership must analyze and incorporate future trends in both higher education and technology and must clearly understand the interrelationships.

IT leaders can use the set of questions in this blog post to develop information and goals that will help their institutions align strategic IT investments with the overall mission and vision. The questions provide guidance around identifying whom to talk to and what information to seek, and they are designed to help you develop additional pertinent questions for your institution. Developing answers to these questions through an iterative, conversational approach with stakeholders will enrich the strategy and create institutional inclusiveness for greater buy-in. Intentionally asking and answering these questions will help IT leaders create well-informed enterprise technology strategies.

What Should You Ask Yourself and the IT Staff?

Developing questions with your staff is a great start. Consider questions in these areas:

  • What overall environmental factors (political and regulatory, economic, competitive, technological, social and cultural); trends in IT, higher education, and other fields; emerging technologies; and other internal and external drivers should we consider?
  • What strategic planning approach will work best for us?1 What are the frameworks and standards we should use? How can we benchmark against our peers? Who should be involved in strategic planning and how?
  • What time frame should we consider? How often should we review and update our strategy?
  • What institutional strategies, special needs, priorities, and goals are relevant? How do we ensure alignment between IT, the institution as a whole, and key stakeholders?
  • What investments can we make to ensure the success of underrepresented students, faculty, and staff? How can our technology strategy support the institution's diversity, equity, and inclusion goals and programs?
  • What resources and information do we need? What do we have? What can we get? What costs can we anticipate, and what opportunities may emerge as our technology investments age out?
  • What mandates, expectations, and areas of engagement exist for IT? What vision, mission, and values are currently in place? Are they still appropriate, or do they need revision? What do we want our future to look like and with what outcomes?
  • What are our organization's core competencies? What do we struggle with? Are there important trends or opportunities that we need to respond to? What challenges do we need to overcome?

What Should You Ask Institutional Leadership?

Next you want to broaden the conversation to the institution's non-IT leadership. These broader conversations will confirm some of the answers to your previous questions and give you the opportunity to gather answers to additional questions, such as:

  • What are our institutional priorities, goals, and objectives—both published and unpublished?
  • What has our institution set as its risk appetite and risk tolerance? Are we open to justified risks? Do we have a preference for safe delivery? Is avoidance of risk a core tenet of our institution?
  • Are we open to being a pilot organization for new technologies? Do we generally embrace change? Are we innovative? How do we deal with failure?
  • What value do we want from IT? Do you view us as a partner or a cost center? Are there other internal or external organizations you would like us to partner with as part of our strategy?
  • What is our institutional culture related to technology strategy as demonstrated by the artifacts and behaviors, espoused values, and shared assumptions of our people?
  • What funds will be available to achieve our IT goals? Will they be sufficient, or should we revise our IT goals? How and how often will we communicate our progress on our goals?

What Other Individuals and Organizations Do You Need to Consult?

In addition to institutional and IT leadership, you will want to broaden your outreach to include other stakeholders. This outreach will provide additional confirmation from previous conversations and further insights from new ones.

  • Peer institutions—information about their technology strategies, organizational design, and successes and failures
  • Vendors—your current ones and other leading technology companies
  • Professional organizations—organizations such as AIR (Association for Institutional Research), EDUCAUSE, Internet2, NACUBO (National Association of College and University Business Officers) that can provide trends, research, and other information
  • Government/lobbying organizations—Department of Education, AGB (Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges)
  • Internal non-IT expertise—your faculty, researchers, administration, students, staff
  • Industry and external partners—industry experts and thinktanks, research and advising firms or consultants, aligned non-profit organizations, special interest groups, K–12 schools, or others

Where Can You Find the Information You Need?

EDUCAUSE provides many resources to assist IT leaders with research and decision making. Visit Enhance Decision Making for a quick list of useful tools, including the EDUCAUSE Top Ten IT Issues list, Top Ten Strategic Technologies and Trends, Horizon Report and Working Groups.

Some other notable resources include:

  • EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR), which conducts original research and publishes research bulletins
  • EDUCAUSE Analytics Services, which provides access to the Core Data Survey (CDS) that benchmarks institutions in key areas and also provides faculty and student information (ETRAC)
  • EDUCAUSE Library, which provides research, working group reports, and other materials supporting the use and management of technology in higher education,
  • Community Groups, including an active CIO community
  • EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, which provides networking opportunities, peer and industry presentations, and other valuable content

Your institution may have valuable resources that you can draw upon:

  • Your library's journal subscriptions and online resources
  • Reference librarians, who can help locate sources for information
  • Faculty, in particular those with research areas aligned with enterprise technology, finance, or strategic planning
  • Subject-matter experts among administrators, staff, and students

This blog post provides potential questions, audiences, and topics to help you begin crafting an enterprise technology strategy. We hope it also will help you develop and brainstorm additional inquiries to drive your effort.

For more on enterprise IT issues and leadership perspectives in higher education, please visit the EDUCAUSE Review Enterprise Connections blog as well as the Enterprise IT Program web page.


  1. Henry Mintzberg and Joseph Lampel, "Reflecting on the Strategy Process," MIT Sloan Management Review, April 15, 1999.

Debbie Carraway is the Director of Information Technology for the College of Sciences at North Carolina State University.

Andy Clark is the Enterprise IT Program Manager at EDUCAUSE.

Peggy Kay is the Associate Vice President of Academic Technology and Campus Engagement at California State University Sacramento.

© 2020 Debbie Carraway, Andy Clark and Peggy Kay. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 International License.