Plan your business IT systems

Carry out an IT needs assessment

A needs assessment is an organised way of determining gaps between where your business is and where you want it to be. It is typically the first step in any business improvement effort, and an integral part of any business systems planning.

What is an IT needs assessment?

An information technology or IT assessment is a systematic analysis of your business' technology needs. It's a way of looking at what technology, systems and processes you currently have and use, and what you might need in the future to support your business objectives and growth.

To avoid wasting time and money, and be able to make informed decisions, you should carry out an IT needs assessment before you make any technology purchases or changes in your business.

How to assess your business IT needs?

A needs assessment process typically involves several steps. You should:

1. Gather relevant information - you should audit your infrastructure, processes and current systems. Study your workflows and find out how employees use current technology and do their work. You may want to carry out focus groups with relevant staff, or conduct surveys, interviews, etc to collect as much relevant information as you can. You can use many different business analysis tools for strategic planning.

2. Identify drivers for change - Review the strengths and weaknesses of existing IT systems and try to identify areas that are causing problems. Understand the reasons for change. For example, do you need new IT systems to satisfy eg new legislation, streamline processes for efficiency, meet customer needs or simply to remain competitive in the market?

3. Determine the requirements - Aim to identify all possible requirements. You can decide later which ones are critical, realistic and affordable. Align your requirements with your business objectives and goals. For example, if your objective is to improve customer service, do you need a new system to communicate with customers more effectively? If you're aiming to increase efficiencies, will the new system help you to simplify operations? Or improve knowledge and information management across your business? If necessary, include your stakeholders in this process.

4. Consider your resources - if you establish a clear need for a new system, decide how much money and time you are willing or able to spend on it. You will need to dedicate resources for not only purchase, but also the implementation of the system, staff training, change management, maintenance and support.

5. Review and prioritise results - if you have limited resources, you may need to prioritise your needs. Work out which system may deliver the most of your requirements for the least amount of money. Make sure to consider the alternatives – perhaps you can resolve your IT problems with adjustments in other areas of business.

Devise a document to record the outcomes of your needs assessment and prioritisation, so that you can revisit them if necessary. Analyse the results and use them to create your IT strategy. See how to develop an IT strategy.

Remember, the function of information technology in every business is to capture, process, store and distribute information or data. Therefore, the first principle of aligning IT with business is to have a clear understanding of your business itself. Find out how to align IT with your business strategy.