IT Strategic Planning

Introduction

The company that I work for is a ceramic studio that designs and sells a collection of fine art pieces of different ceramic forms including flower vase, dishes, bottles, wall pieces, among other forms. The company also imports and keeps a collection of fine art pieces from different parts of the world including Asia, Europe and Latin America. Since I joined the company, it has grown steadily in terms of sales and market and much more growth is expected in the next few years. This paper analyses the strategic business goals of the company and develops an IT strategy that aligns to the business goals. 

Business Goals and Objectives

The business goals of the organization are as follows:

  1. Goal 1: To increase the sales of the ceramic pieces by 30% by the end of the year – For the past five years, the company’s sales have been increasing at a rate of 20% annually. This year, the company increased its marketing budgets with the intention of attaining a minimum of 30% increase in sales. To achieve this goal, the organization will need to increase its marketing activities to reach a larger market and influence more people to make a purchase. Various marketing strategies such as branding promotional activities and adverting will be considered to popularize the company and its product offerings.
  2. Goal 2: To increase the response time for delivering online orders by 20% by the end of the year. The ceramics seller sells its products at a studio as well as through an online platform whereby customers view the available pieces, choose an item, make an order, make the payment and wait for the item to be delivered. For the last financial year, the average time taken to deliver the ordered pieces was 48 hours depending on the location of the client and the features of the ceramic piece being delivered. This year, the organization hopes to reduce the time taken to deliver orders by 20%. This implies that the organization hopes to deliver online orders within 36 hours maximum. To achieve this goal, the objective would improve on the processing of orders by having additional staff to do the order processing and organize for delivery.
  3. Goal 3: To display, market and sell technical excellence in ceramic technology. Currently, the firm designs most of its ceramic art pieces manually as well as through the use of technology. Each design is unique and original in design regardless of whether it is handcrafted or technology-crafted. To achieve this goal, the organization will need to popularize its excellence in ceramic technology by making it part of the product and service offering. This implies that the company will be offering customers an opportunity to create their own designs whether manually or using the ceramic technology.

IT Strategies aligned with business goals and objectives

The current IT strategies of the organization are based on its business processes and are meant to support the marketing and celling of ceramic pieces. The strategies are not specific but revolve around improving information sharing and access to support the marketing and sale of the ceramic products. While this strategy supports the organization’s mission of remaining committed to producing unique and quality ceramic art, it is not well aligned to the business goals of the company. 

The following are the recommended organization’s IT strategies as aligned by the abovementioned business goals and objectives:

  1. IT strategy for business goal 1: Provide a robust IT infrastructure with increased functionality that supports access to information. Since the organization expects to achieve more online sales in the next financial year, the IT system of the organization should be robust enough to ensure that customers access all the information they need to make a purchase. A modernized IT system could help in the attainment of this strategy by reducing redundancies, improving interoperability and enhancing business functions and workflows (Lee & Runge, 2016). 
  2. IT strategy for business goal 2: To advance IT business management practices with the aim of transforming and improving service delivery. Since the company’s number of online customers is increasing, the organization should improve its commitment to deliver IT customer services through integration and modernization of IT business system to achieve business goal number 2. To achieve this IT strategy, the organization will need to improve the end to end interaction between the customer and the organization (Lee & Runge, 2016). This could be through creating a user-friendly online experience for customers through improving the quality of customer service and prioritizing exceptional delivery.
  3. IT strategy for business goal 3: Modernize IT infrastructure and install software applications for ceramic technology design. The software should be user friendly such that customers can be able to add the features that they desire on their ceramic art pieces. The software applications should have improved functionality such that customers are able to add as many features as they would want. 

Organizational Structure

Organizational design

Considering that the ceramic studio is a small company that employs about 50 people, the organizational structure that is used is functional, implying that there are several department that specialize in different activities. The organizational structure is hierarchical with the company owner at the top of the hierarchy followed by the general manager. Under the general manager are four departments namely: the marketing and sales department, finance department, production department and human resource departments. Each department has a head of department and several workers that report to the department heads. 

Organizational chart

The organizational chart can be summarized as follows:

Job profiles

The table below summarizes the job profiles of the key personnel of the ceramics studio:

Title  Company owner and CEO
Reports to Nil
Major duties  To provide general directions to the company

Developing short term and long term business strategies 

Evaluating the work of department heads in attaining organizational goals 

Authorizes capital expenditure

Establishing business goals and objectives

Assessing company risks and ensuring that they are mitigated

Subordinates  General manager

Production manager

Marketing and sales manager

Finance manager

Human resource manager 

All the company workers including the part time and full time employees

Title  General manager
Reports to CEO
Major duties Developing strategies based on current market and technological opportunities 

Communicating values and developing incentives 

Collaborating with customers, community, government and other stakeholder to boost company image

Establishing and enforcing organizational standards and values to enhance quality in service delivery

Establishing distribution channels in consultation with the production and marketing and sales managers

Subordinates  Production manager

Marketing and sales manager

Finance manager

Human resource manager 

All the company workers including the part time and full time employees for each department

Title  Production manager
Reports to Company owner and CEO

General manager

Major duties Planning and coordinating the production of goods

Overseeing the ordering of ram materials and other supplies

Coordinating the delivery of finished products 

Planning and coordinating the receipt of finished products from remote workers

Assessing raw materials and resource requirements

Establishing and coordinating quality control standards

Supervising local and remote workers

Subordinates  Local workers (five)

Remote workers (five) 

Title  Marketing and sales manager
Reports to Company owner and CEO

General manager

Major duties  Planning and developing marketing and sales plans 

Availing marketing and sales information and providing recommendations for strategic plans

Planning and coordinating marketing and sales financial objectives

Identifying and optimizing marketing opportunities

Supervising sales associates, staff and assistants

Negotiating with customers

Coordinating customer service

Monitoring the attainment of sales targets

Approving new product designs

Subordinates  Sales associates (five)

Sales staffs and assistants (five)

Title  Finance manager
Reports to Company owner and CEO

General manager

Major duties  Coordinate the day to day financial expenditure of the organization

Reviewing financial data and preparing reports

Overseeing the work of financial department employees

Understanding and ensuring compliance with financial regulations

Track the organization’s financial performance and recommending areas of improvement

Overseeing tax preparation and auditing 

Monitoring inventory investment and setting discounts for old inventory

Subordinates  Financial assistants (two)

Financial accountants (three)

Title  Human resource manager
Reports to Company owner and CEO

General manager

Major duties   Establishing an employee recruiting and hiring program

Updating job descriptions and requirements for different positions

Overseeing employee appraisals and resolving employee grievances

Maintains and negotiates employee benefits programs

Ensuring legal compliance with the necessary employment laws

Subordinates  Department assistants (two)

 

Organizational culture 

The organizational culture at the ceramics studio is based on the mission of the organization, which is to remain committed to producing unique and quality ceramic art. Consequently, the organization adopts a collaborative culture whereby all employees collaborate to produce and offer quality and unique ceramic pieces. All employees working at the organization including the company CEO who is also the business owner and the temporary workers work together to deliver quality pieces and attain short term and long term business objectives. The business owner enables this by providing resources and technical assistance when necessary, and even the business owner himself does the handcrafting and is very creative in creating new ceramic art pieces. The culture at the organization is also inclusive as the business owner believes that every employee despite his or her position has critical contributions to the success of the business. However, each employee at the organization has to uphold the four key values that drive the organization: integrity, respect, service and communication.

Leadership factors 

The types of leadership that are practiced within the organization is transformational and servant leadership. Transformational leadership style is whereby a leader focuses on the goals of an organization by aligning his or her goals with the goal of the organization. In contrast, servant leadership is whereby a leader focuses on being of service to an organization and its key stakeholders. As a result, the leaders at the organization focus on attaining organizational goals by leading by example and also serving the needs of others, especially customer needs. This style of leadership also influences the junior employees to always be of service to others and do everything possible to attain organizational goals. An important leadership element at the organization is the commitment of the leaders, particularly the business owner and the general manager to always promote teamwork while solving problems. This way, everyone at the organization gets a chance to contribute towards the growth and wellbeing of the business.

Business processes 

The ceramics studio engages in several business processes including new product design and development, actual production of the ceramic pieces, and marketing and sales. New product design and development involves the coming up of a new concept or design of a ceramic art. The designs can be handcrafted or made using ceramic technology. The production part involves making the ceramic art pieces while implementing the unique designs. Marketing and sales involves putting the finished pieces on display either at the store or on the online shopping site, and advertising the pieces. 

Physical layout 

The ceramic studio measures 1,500 square feet and is portioned into a showroom, three working spaces and six offices. The CEO, general manager and each department manager has offices that are partitioned to smaller offices and desks to accommodate assistants and other workers. There is also a virtual office from where the remote workers are managed. Every finished product is displayed in the showroom and photos of the finished art pieces are uploaded to the online shopping site where customers can see the available products and make their orders. The local workers can work from the two working spaces while the third working space is reserved for customers who want to come in and design their own pieces of art. Each working space or studio has a wedging table where all the wet work takes place as well as worktables, potter’s wheels, tools and sculpture stands.

IT Infrastructure

Hardware

The ceramic studio has a few IT hardware equipment including 10 computers with the organization’s CEO, general manager and department managers each having a computer. There is also a computer in each work space and two in the showroom where they assist in recording sales. The CEO also has a portable device that helps him access organizational information in real time when he needs to. Each main office also has a scanner and printer to assist in printing and any documentation involving paperwork. The show room also has two video display units placed strategically for easy visibility of who comes into the store and what he or she does. These display units are attached to the CCTV cameras placed in the showroom and workspaces.

Software

Each computer has an operating system that is MS Windows and data entry is done through the MS Office application. For database, the organization uses MS Access while MS Excel and MS Word are used as spreadsheet and word processor respectively. The computers in the workspaces have Adobe Photoshop and CorelDRAW as graphics applications to help in the technology-crafting of the ceramic pieces. The applications help in developing new ceramic designs or remodel old designs. Other software used by the IT equipment includes internet browsers including Internet Explorer and Google Chrome, VLC and Windows Media Player as video applications, and Gmail as email application. Besides, all the computers use McAfee as antivirus software. 

Network

The current network infrastructure for the ceramic studio includes the following: servers, data storage, firewalls and voice. The current web server used by the store is MS IIS while the operating system is MS Windows server. This server is located in a small storage room that is always locked for security purposes. The server can serve up to 25 computers but the store is currently using 10 computers to perform daily work tasks. Company electronic data is stored in MS Windows Access that acts as the electronic database for the organization while other records are stored manually in paper format. Another network infrastructure currently being used by the company is firewalls that are critical in ensuring the security of the company network. The organization uses both software and hardware firewalls including the Windows Firewall, McAfee and the router that is being used is wired such that no intruders can penetrate the network. While hardware firewalls are effective in preventing viruses from infecting a computer in the network, they also easily spread viruses to other computers in a network from one infected computer. Hence, the organization also uses Windows firewall and McAfee firewall to prevent the spread of viruses within the network.

IT resources

The organization has several IT resources including hardware resources such as: MS IIS web servers, 10 computers and one portable device for the CEO, printers, scanners, video displays, telephones, fax machines, and a secure room that houses the server. Software IT resources include: operating systems, email, internet browsers, video players, software graphic applications, and other software programs. All these facilitate the acquisition, storage, management, display and processing of organizational data and information. 

IT Challenges

Considering the current IT infrastructure and resources of the ceramic studio, the organization faces several IT challenges that can be grouped as either internal or external.

  1. Internal IT challenges faced in meeting business needs

One of the main internal IT challenge that the organization is facing is data storage. Currently, the organization is using both the traditional physical and the modern electronic data storage system. This implies that the company stores some data in paper files and cabinets while electronic data is stored in MS Access that offers more storage and is easy to scale and retrieve information. However, the company is increasingly handling electronic data and the electronic database has a limited storage capacity. This implies that data storage for incoming market and customer information is increasingly getting limited. 

Another internal IT challenge facing the organization is accessibility of data. With advancement in technology and the growing online transactions, the company needs to increase its capacity to access critical business information. However, this information can only be retrieved from the computers within the organization’s network and from the CEO’s portable device. Remote workers cannot also retrieve information virtually and have to rely on communication with the production manager. To deal with increasing number of online customers and deliver information to the required users, the organization needs an IT solution that will enhance the accessibility of data among different users. 

Another key internal IT challenge that the organization is facing is a tight IT budget. Currently, the organization does not have an IT department or technical staff and all the IT functions have to be contracted to an external expert when need arises. This implies that whenever the IT infrastructure needs upgrades or maintenance, department managers will need to inform the CEO, who then contacts a service provider. A tight budget also means that the organization has maintained an old fashioned server that always requires maintenance. In addition, the computers being used are not portable and have to be used in one location only.

  1. External IT challenges faced in meeting business needs

One external IT challenge that undermines the ability of the organization to meet daily business needs is keeping up with trends. Compared to other small retailers or businesses dealing with the marketing and sales of products, the ceramic studio is lagging behind in adopting the latest IT trends. The company is yet to upgrade its IT network in terms of functionality and performance despite scalable IT solutions becoming increasingly available. 

  1. Social and ethical considerations of these challenges

While addressing these challenges, the organization needs to consider several social and ethical factors. These include rights and obligations when it comes to the use of information technology, ensuring accountability while dealing with information and property rights, and protecting the rights of individuals and the society. Whereas the organization needs to collect and analyze customer, sales and market information to help in meeting business objectives, the organization has the obligation to protect the public from harm while collecting and using this information. In addition, the organization should not collect and store personal information against the will of customers. The data collection and analysis process should not in any way infringe on the rights and values of individuals and the society.

Recommended IT strategy

To help the ceramic studio to effectively meet its business goals and objectives as well as address current IT challenges, the following is required:

  • Implement cloud technologies for data storage and security – The organization is needs to implement a cloud solution that will increase its data storage capacity as well as increase data accessibility. Cloud solutions offer a large storage and enhance networking capabilities at an affordable cost as it is based on a pay as you go model (Ali & Haseebuddin, 2015). The cloud solution could also help in enhancing operational efficiency especially when the company is handling a high traffic or is processing a high number of online orders. Increased speed of order processing will effectively enable the organization meet its first two business goals of increasing sales and improving order delivery time (Qian & Palvia, 2014).
  • Upgrade servers and computers – The organization needs to upgrade its network by having a more modern server that will require less maintenance and be able to support multiple device using cables and through a wireless network (Arora & Rahman, 2017).  The organization also needs to consider more portable computers that can be moved and used within the store to meet business needs. This solution could also help in faster processing of sales and orders thereby enabling the attainment of business goals 1 and 2. To help attain business goal 3, the organization needs to add two modern computers in the third workspace that is used by customers to create their own ceramic designs using technology.  
  • Have more portable devices – The organization needs to add more portable devices to be used by the general manager and the marketing personnel. The devices will help in real time recording of critical market and customer informal and the retrieval of data involving available items and their price offerings. The devices could also be used by the production department for better inventory management (Lindh & Nordman, 2017). 
  • Implement a virtual office – The organization also needs a virtual office that will allow the remote workers in the production department to work more effectively. A virtual office would also help sales and marketing associates and staff to work remotely (Lindh & Nordman, 2017). 

Each of the above strategies will require the organization to expand its IT budget. However, in the long run, the strategies will work for the benefit of the company in terms of improved data accessibility and storage, little maintenance cost that comes with cloud technologies, improved efficiencies, competitive advantage, and improved business processes.

 

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