May 5, 2018

Creating a Digital Master Plan

We live in an age where new technologies are disrupting the operating models of business, government, sport, education systems, and more. With cloud computing, ubiquitous connectivity, internet of things, artificial intelligence / machine learning / deep learning, blockchain, augmented reality, virtual reality and wearables, it’s difficult to know where to start and what to prioritise.

Beyond technologies, ways of working are evolving from slow and rigid to fast and collaborative, e.g. Agile, DevOps, Continuous Delivery.

To best leverage emerging technologies and operating models, it is easiest to approach the problem by answering two key questions:

  • Where do I want to be?
  • How do I get there?

The creation of a Master Plan is common in the world of atoms, but less prevalent in the world of bits. In construction and development projects – such as the design of a new district or residential development – the Master Plan guides the project from concept and design, through to implementation. Even as further details of the design and construction emerge, the Master Plan is a baseline that is updated and improved upon.Similarly, with ICT infrastructure and digital technologies, there is a need to translate the vision into a coherent design and implementation framework to help organisations achieve their goals.

What Does It Look Like?

The Digital Master Plan consists of 10 core components as outlined below:

digital master plan


Outlines an aspirational description of the target state, together with specific goals and success metrics.

Digital Experience Mapping

Describes the expected experiences of staff, customers, partners and other stakeholders, as well as the digital touchpoints that enable and support each of these experiences.

Digital Services

Describes the individual services to be delivered as part of the target design. They may include telecommunications & networks, computing infrastructure, enterprise and business applications, integration technologies, analytics, cyber security & data protection, etc. Services are clarified in terms of priority, business ownership, required levels of service, and where they sit on the scale of must-have to nice-to-have. These services represent the translation of the vision into a scope that can be implemented.


Details the key principles and application-, infrastructure-, integration- and data architecture needed to implement and support the Digital Services.

Cyber Security

The reference framework, standards and policies, tools and operational model to protect the ICT infrastructure, systems and data. It also addresses the resiliency of the architecture and its ability to support business

Sourcing Model

Defines what should be implemented and managed externally vs in-house? What are the main categories of technology products & services that need to be sourced? What is the landscape of possible providers for each category? What are the responsibilities between providers and customer? The sourcing model provides a strategy for who does what during planning, implementation and ongoing support.

Business Case

Based on the Digital Services and Sourcing Model, what will it cost? What are the potential sources of revenue / monetisation? How does the cost model change between build and operate?

Organisation & Governance

This defines the target organisation model, roles & responsibilities and skills development needed. It also details the governance model internally and with providers and partners.

Innovation Labs

Ongoing innovation, throughout the programme and beyond is essential to avoid stagnation. Establishing an innovation lab provides the capability to run accelerated proof-of-concepts for emerging technologies or targeted solutions. For example, a particular IoT scenario or AR use case. Potential technology providers should be involved at this stage to demonstrate POC scenarios & use cases on their technology platforms.

Project Planning

A detailed project plan which describes the tasks and key project milestones to achieve the goal. What are the possible risks & challenges? How will quality be assured across the programme?

Where is it applicable?

The Digital Master Plan works well with greenfield projects that do not have the burden of legacy systems, infrastructure and provider agreements. It’s the approach successfully utilised on this mega project. The Digital Master Plan can be a stand-alone scope, or integrated with the physical master plan, representing the digital layer. For example, Sidewalk Labshave integrated the physical and digital layers into an "urban innovation platform" as part of their proposal for the Toronto Quayside neighbourhood development project.

However, it can be even more powerful to drive a Digital Transformation initiative by first designing the target state, unencumbered by existing constraints, just as a start-up would do. The transition from the current state to the future design can then be built into the master plan.

  • New site or district design
  • Mega and major events
  • City-wide initiatives
  • Stadiums and entertainment venues
  • Digital transformation

A Living Plan

The need to continually update and improve the Digital Master Plan reflects the fact that technologies are changing rapidly and business priorities shifting. New uses for blockchain, analytics and artificial intelligence may need to be incorporated. Emerging technologies that were initially not considered should be evaluated and tested as the plan evolves. Business priorities, organisation structures, stakeholders or external dependencies may have changed.

These changes and improvements may impact budget, timelines, sourcing models or organisation, while remaining true to achieving the desired vision and goals.

Do I need one?

do I need digital master plan

The Master Plan integrates all of the elements needed to achieve a seamless and inspirational digital experience. It backs up the vision with a robust design and implementation plan. It enables key architectural principles to be agreed, infrastructure and systems to be prioritized, budgets to be defined for approval and the most appropriate sourcing model and provider landscape to be established.

Most importantly, it lays out a clear plan of execution to reach the destination, while minimising the risk of going off-track or stagnating mid-way.

Contact us for more information.

Further reading:

Townsend and Lorimer: Digital Master Planning

Sidewalk Labs: Toronto Quayside Vision Submission