SISP – Strategic Information Systems Planning

SISP or Strategic Information Systems Planning is the process used by managers to figure out what IT systems they need.  Yet how do you know what you don’t know?

The solution is to use a combination of approaches to do some research and some creative thinking.

By taking the output of these tools and reviewing the results, can help you turn strategic vision into a tactical worklist to be executed.


This article introduces the tools in the SISP toolbox.  Furthermore it’s important to note, that the list of tools is not exhaustive but rather a good grounding.

I’m hoping you’ll have enough to make sure you have something in your back pocket when you’re ready to do a review.

Fridays are great days to invest the time in doing this process as it lifts the spirits for the weekend.

Please don’t misunderstand that this process is simple or easy.  It’s time consuming and focused and can be the difference between growth and death of your business.

  • Checklists
  • Business Opportunities
  • Internal Positioning
  • External Positioning
  • Linkage / Future Models
  • Wrap up and implementation

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Eating the whole elephant

We are trying to manage the future by putting it into an action plan.  The question becomes what should go into the plan?

The easiest approach is to make a list and then scratch out the things that shouldn’t apply. So how do you make these lists.  Perspective.


This process is far reaching.  So to make sure we don’t overlook something, we write it down.

The process results in checklists for us to refer back to later on, so as we plan we don’t inadvertently miss something.


We try to view the world from different angles which sparks our memory for what needs doing and ignites our imagination for what could be done.

As a result , to help us generate those lists, different tried and tested approaches are exceptionally handy

Risk, SWOT, PLEETS (Political, Legal, Economical, Environmental, Technical and Sociological Factors), Business Analysis and Sector Analysis all have tools which aid SISP.

You can use as many or few as you like.  Remember this is gathering information, the more the merrier to get started.


The Risk Register and your SISP

Firstly and most importantly is protecting the business.   Start here and get this process out of the way first.


I warn you that reviewing a risk register is a mood killer if you’re looking to expand your thinking.

Do your risk reviews Monday or Tuesday… trust me on this.  You figure out everything that can go wrong not what can go right.

Best to do this on a dedicated day when people aren’t tired and don’t try do the uplifting / imagination exercises on the same day.


The starting point for every section of planning is reviewing where things might go wrong.   It is more important that prospective IFs and flights of fantasy.

Consequently after this process your risk register is a list of all the things that can go wrong.

It provides a structured checklist for you to review and ensure you’ve thought of all that you reasonably can.

You can even invite external parties to come in and provide advice or review to enhance your register with ideas or challenges you haven’t seen yet.

Use nouns to review your business.  What are the risks in my Departments, People, Equipment, Rooms, Processes and Suppliers.

Life experience can really help, so occlude no one’s experience especially if they’ve been through something before.

If you’ve done SISP work before you realise that more help is better but keeping a cap on time limits is vital as you could spend all day every day “exploring” and get nothing done.



The tried and tested business tool.  A Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats box.

The tool allows you to consider additional items for the risk register but also begins the process of looking for new products, services and opportunities.

There are many descriptions of SWOT and how to deliver them available on the net today.  Here’s one approach from investopedia.  And there are plenty of videos.


Business Opportunities

Strategic IS Portfolio Analysis

Now that we have lists, we can say we’ve properly started our SISP.

Next, how can we use what we have to make new products, provide new services and identify opportunities we could grow.

To do this having a look around the industry can help and this is where market research kicks in.

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The Boston Consulting Group suggested a planned model with is commonly referred to as the BCG Model.

  1. Dogs: These are products with low growth or market share.
  2. Question marks or Problem Child: Products in high growth markets with low market share.
  3. Stars: Products in high growth markets with high market share.
  4. Cash cows: Products in low growth markets with high market share

Using this as a basis for reviewing IS position helps to explore IT and IS solutions.


John Ward and Pat Griffiths in 1996 suggested some ways of reviewing IS to explore new opportunities.

  1. Linking the organisation to customers or suppliers, eg EDI, website, VANs, extranets.
  2. Creating effective integration of the use of information in a value-adding process, eg data mining, data warehousing, ERP.
  3. Enabling the organisation to develop, produce, market and distribute new products or services, eg CAD, CRM.
  4. Giving senior management information to help to develop and implement strategy, eg knowledge management


Coming up with new ideas from today’s current position is a fun job.  It is also highly discussed academically as people suggest scientific approaches on being creative.


Whilst the technology evolves the management processes remain sound approaches to work from.


Internal Positioning

Taking a closer look

Ok, so we’ve got something down on paper.  The good and the bad.

Now it’s time to review the tools we already have in house and see where we might have gaps and where we might improve.

Again there are some good models here to help us do those reviews systematically.




Value Chain Analysis

Making sure you don’t miss an internal department or elements within the operation can be challenging.  People forget tools they use daily simply because they use them daily.

You don’t consider a chair an essential part of your working day until it’s gone or doesn’t work.

So using a value chain is a handy round the house review tool for internal SISP work.


Stages of Growth Model

The next tool in the box are the stages of growth of model for reviewing tools and how they might apply internally.

Some tech is too new.  Older tech brings with it its own set of issues.  Also some tools are available and just not being used.

Using things like hype cycles to review what is and isn’t available.  Consequently then applying what you have already in the business to the model can help inform your decision making.

Nolan proposed a 4 stage model, which later became a 6 stage model, followed by McFarlan’s update.

The stages are:

  1. Investment / project initiation
  2. Technology learning and adaptation
  3. Management control
  4. Widespread technology transfer

However the models change the idea is the same.  How well is the technology being applied in the various areas.


Critical Success Factors

Definition: Critical success factor is a management term for an element that is necessary for an organization or project to achieve its mission. Alternative terms are key result area and key success factor.

What you’re doing is using the goals, ambitions and objectives of the company and of managers.  After identifying what is or isn’t important to the business, working on how IS can deliver those.

This tool has three primary stages to add to your SISP

  1. Firstly identify the Critical Success Factors to your business.
  2. Next what are the Key Decisions that are linked to those CSFs
  3. Finally examine what is the Information Required to support those decisions.


External Positioning

The enemy at the gates

This is your opportunity to crush the opposition.  Business is very akin to war.

The primary goal of business (specifically business, not charity, academics or philanthropy) is to make money.

How you go about making that money involves competition.

So you have to think like a warrior, even if you elect to not go to war.

It doesn’t hurt to plan it out.


Michael Porter

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The Competitive 5 Forces Model  was the brain child of Michael Porter.

This model has remained pretty consistence since it’s publication in 1979.

Michael Porter was a Harvard Business School professor, analyzing an industry’s attractiveness and likely profitability.

A way of making sure you review all the external entities that might have an impact on your business.

Again, please remember, as part of the SISP tool box we’re still making lists at this stage.


Porter was very good at this stuff.  Furthermore he introduced in 1985 another model called the “Generic Business Strategies” model which three focii

  • Low Cost:  Reducing overall costs in production and operations
  • Differentiation which added features to the products and services.
  • Focus / Niche which was to tailor the approach for specific market niches directly.


Wiseman, Rackoff and Ulrich

Nick Rackoff, Charles Wisemana dn Walter A. Ullrich published a paper in MIS Quaterly in December 1983.

Basically creating titles under which approaches and strategic choice for IS solutions could help.

Firstly, who are the strategic target, suppliers, customers or competitors.

Next, how do we plan to beat them.  Through differentiation, low cost, innovation, growth or alliance.

Also, how do we go about this approach, offensively or defensively.

Finally, how do we deliver this, do we use a solution or do we provide a solution?

Again a model for generating ideas for the SISP process.



Linkage / Future Models

Imagination at its best.  What can your crystal ball tell you?

Finally we try to predict the future.  What ifs.  There are two tools which try to formalise this approach but it is about guess work.


Firstly we have Linkage Models suggested by Primozic et al in 1991.

Which companies have strategic and tactical relationships with other companies.  Identifying weak spots creates opportunities where identifying strengths help you plan where to strengthen your own operation against attack.

  1. Define power relationships amongst the various players and stakeholders
  2. Map out the extended enterprise to include suppliers, buyers and strategic partners
  3. Plan electronic channels to deliver information components of products and services.


Also there is Scenario Planning from Schwartz in 1991 which contributes to the SISP toolbox.

“Stories about the way the world might be in the future.”  Though the goal is not to predict the future, but exploring scenarios of what might happen helps risk and identify opportunity.

  1. Define a decision problem and time frame for boundaries
  2. Identify major trends that will affect the decision problem
  3. Spice it up with a few driving uncertainties
  4. Build the scenario


Wrap up and Implementation

You now have a heap load of ideas, challenges and opportunities.  Next is to turn them into a SISP action plan.

Write all the line items down.  Do this, that the other in columns in a spreadsheet.

This becomes a work list.  The more information you have available the better.  The columns you’re looking for in my opinion are.

Position is as per the value chain.  Department reminds where in the business this will affect.  Is this a risk is a gut feeling of yes / no or true / false.

The title is summing up the activity in one line.  Time, cost and resources are the basics of project management, i.e. what’s it going to take to get this done!

Liklihood of happening, is a rating of 0 to +5.  0 being this is never going to happen.  5 being I’m very sure this is going to happen.

Effect if it happens is -5 to +5.  -5 means really really bad for the business, where +5 is really really good for the business.  Multiply column G by column H and you get a Risk Rating.

This can be used to examine the extremes at both ends and decide if you’re going to do something about it.

Order helps you remember what is going to be your focus, whilst the rest of the information serves as reminder as to why you’re doing.


Congratulations you’ve done your first SISP review.

If there’s anything in this article you’d like to chat to me about you can contact me here or on social media.


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