Having a plan to improve your practice’s information technology can help you fix what’s broken, do a better job of helping clients, and give you a bit more certainty about where you’re headed in the future.
IT is just a tool to help you do better what you’re doing now, and figuring out how to use it better doesn’t have to be overwhelming or confusing. Investing some time now could save you a lot of effort and money over the long-term.
Are you an IT-savvy practice?
How well does your practice engage with digital technology and communications? If you’re using technology well, you’ll have the appropriate hardware, software, knowledge and skills to use it to extend your vision and goals. You’ll use technology to improve the operation of your systems, reduce bureaucracy, enhance knowledge management, increase your networks and better support your clients and patients.
If you can take time to improve the use of IT in your practice, you'll be able to:
Get the most from your IT investments by having a plan for how you will use IT and improve on it
Make it easy for staff to collaborate, work productively and work from anywhere by using cloud technology and mobile devices
Provide new services through digital health and other online services
Make it easy for clients and patients to find you by having a strong online presence
Keep your practice working through disruptions by planning for outages and making backups
What is an IT plan and why have one?
Understanding what information and communication technology can do and having a plan to make it work for your practice could make your service delivery quicker, better and cheaper.
Technology also has the power to integrate your mission and business plan - management, finance, budget, material procurement and personnel services - with its service delivery.
Planning lies at the heart of establishing practice goals and encouraging workplace improvement. It takes time to build up your practice’s IT ability. Building that ability is like building a house: you want strong foundations, and a plan for the rooms you’ll need, rather than just adding things on as the mood takes you.
An ICT plan will help you:
- buy the right equipment. Purchasing hardware, software and networking equipment can be overwhelming. If you don't plan, it's easy to end up with something that is way too complicated or doesn't do what you need it to. There's no substitute for thinking through your goals and researching possible solutions
- save money. You probably do not need the fanciest system on the market. Planning allows you to figure out how to spend less and still meet your needs
- avoid crises. Bad technology decisions can leave you suffering for years. A faulty system can send your stress level through the roof and make you lose crucial data and capabilities
- use staff time more effectively. How many hours of staff time have you lost to those niggling technical problems? A technology plan will help you streamline staff use of technology, and put systems in place that will make technology a useful tool for staff, not a stumbling block
- protect yourself from staff turnover. If the person who knows your technology leaves, what will you do? A technology plan can save you by providing documentation of existing systems as well as future plans.
What should an IT plan include
Your IT plan should:
- align with your business goals
- help your staff do their jobs better
- be written in clear, simple English with as little jargon as possible so that all staff can understand and commit to it.
An IT plan should ensure that the primary focus of digital proficiency is on the human needs of your practice, not the hardware and software. Talk to your staff about how ICT could help them as you develop your plan.
The main aim of your plan is to help you do what you do now, but better. Any IT investment should be in the name of furthering your practice’s overall aims.
When you start thinking about an IT plan, ask yourself:
- What is our practice trying to achieve?
- How can we become more effective in achieving our goals?
- Are there ways of working that are more effective than present methods?
- How can administrative support technology make our work more effective?
The plan is about more than computer hardware and software. It’s about how your practice can better achieve its goals and improve services. Keeping records of services provided and monitoring and evaluating service data must be one of the key paths to IT efficiency.
Developing your IT plan
For your information and communication technology (ICT) plan to work you’ll need the full commitment of the practice’s leadership.
Before you get too deep into the planning process, it’s a good idea ask for staff feedback via a survey. You can set up a survey easily and for free using a website such as Survey Monkey. Questions don’t need to be complicated; you’re just trying to give everyone a chance to provide feedback about what would help them in their jobs and set a baseline against which you can measure future improvement. For example:
- On a scale of 1 (highly dissatisfied) to 7 (highly satisfied), please rate your overall satisfaction with information technology in your practice.
- How often do you need to use a computer at work? (Options could include hardly ever; semi-regularly; sometimes; regularly; often.)
- On a scale of 1 to 7, how satisfied are you with your own skills and ability to get the most out of information technology and perform your role effectively?
- What two changes to information technology should your practice consider to help staff work more efficiently and effectively?
Running an all-staff meeting to explain why an ICT plan can help the practice can also be a good way to get feedback. You can hear any ideas staff have, or worries they have about increasing your investment in ICT. That meeting could endorse also the appointment of an ICT staff executive officer if you feel you need a staff member to take responsibility for the project.
If you are a very small practice you may need to take on all the ICT responsibilities yourself or you may have only a small group of people, to rely on. Complex arrangements for staff involvement may not be applicable, but you could bear in mind the value of having at least one other person you can talk with about ICT needs and potential. And someone who has some ICT experience, even if that person is a volunteer, may be worth finding.
IT planning - recording what you have and know
If you know what your practice’s information technology capability is now, it will really help you figure out what needs improving. But recording all your assets can be a huge job, particularly if you don’t have many staff to help out. If you have time, do this now as part of making your plan. But if you don’t, get a rough idea of your assets now, move on to the next step, and compile a more complete register over the next few months. This may be an area where a volunteer could really help.
Your register should record the ICT capability your practice already has, including:
- computer hardware
- computer software
- computer warranties, licences, permissions and security processes
- staff ICT experience and proficiency.
You can see a sample asset register here.
The task will raise awareness of your digital proficiency and reveal both what you have and what you lack. No ICT register can be too small and no practice, despite its size, should be without a set of ICT registers. It will aid insurance claims if nothing else!
The next job is figuring out what additional ICT resources your practice needs. The first step in this process is usually to think about what works well and what needs improvement.
Identifying your IT improvement goals
For each goal you set, you’ll have to identify what needs to change in your practice so you can get there – what are the ‘improvement actions’ you’ll have to undertake along the way. You also need to understand the benefits of reaching that goal, and what it will cost to get there: you’ll be recording these in the next section. Feel free to talk with experts (including IT suppliers) to get advice on how much effort and/or cost specific actions will take.
As you’re setting your goals, remember to check in with management and staff to make sure you’re still heading in the right direction.
Writing your IT plan, getting buy-in and commitment
Now that you have a good sense of what needs to go in your IT plan, it is time to get it down on paper. As a rule of thumb (and a rule which should always be broken for a good reason), most IT plans should include:
- key information about your practice including your purpose, the services you provide, staffing and your key (business) goals over the next couple of years
- an overview of your current ICT environment, including your IT asset list and the applications you use (don’t forget your website & social media), what you spend on IT (broken down into key categories), and who supports your ICT environment. If you have the resources, you could add information such as a network diagram.
- an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of your practice's ICT environment and its capacity to support your goals for the next few years. This could include information from the digital proficiency self-assessment you did earlier, together with a summary of the key reasons for your rating in each of the six areas
- the projects or actions you intend to resource over the next year (or more) to improve your ICT environment. This section of your ICT plan should summarise the actions that you intend to take to improve how your ICT environment supports your practice and staff to have an even greater impact. For each improvement action, identify:
- the scope of the improvement action (or what you intend to do; how will you know when you have finished?)
- when you intend to complete the action (this year, next year, etc), and how long it will take
- the benefit of undertaking the improvement action – this can include things like more reliable systems, staff time savings, ability to work when out of the practice, etc. You should be as specific as possible
- the resources required to complete the action (both funding and effort) – this is critical as when you have your IT plan approved, it is important that you are allocated the budget and/or time to undertake each identified action.
Once you have drafted your plan, review it with a critical eye – is it realistic (or are you trying to achieve too much)? Is it justified (are the benefits that you’ll receive from the actions enough to justify the cost and effort)?
Once you’re happy with it, it is time to get formal buy-in and approval (remember, it is best to test ideas as you go through the process). Make sure you align any requests with the appropriate schedule (for example, if your financial year is July – June, you might need to have the draft plan finalised in April or May for inclusion in next year’s budget).
Once the plan has been approved, it’s a matter sticking to it and reviewing it regularly to ensure that things are on track, or refine if you need to.
Download an ICT plan and template and sample plan
There is no ‘perfect’ structure for an IT plan – it is about choosing a structure that is right for your practice. We've put together a planning guide and sample plan to help you get started with your organisation's plan.