Want to Really Add Value? Move IT Closer to the Business! Part 2: Internal Practices

Move IT Closer to Business Internal PracticesBy David Philippou
Associate

Day after day your IT team keeps the systems running. Everything is secure. There are no outages. Tickets get addressed promptly. The entire system operates exactly as it should, every day.

While you think your group should be up for “Department of the Year,” the rest of the company hasn’t even noticed your good work. Why? Because these things are all expected. As far as they’re concerned, you’re just “keeping the lights on.” And who ever notices that?

To really get noticed you must do even more

If your IT team’s entire focus is on keeping the current systems up and running, you’re missing out on a lot of opportunities to add value to your organization.

As the IT leader it’s your job to ensure that IT is supporting business strategy, and then going beyond that to use IT innovation to also drive positive change. What I’ve seen is that to make these things happen you need to move IT closer to the business.

In part 1 of Move IT Closer to Business I talked about three ways to move IT closer to the business: building relationships with other executives in the company, taking advantage of IT’s unique position as an information touchpoint within the company, and sitting in on  business meetings. In other words, three things that all focus on your relationships with the business. Today I’d like to present five additional ways to move IT closer to the business, all focused on your internal IT practices.

Here’s what I recommend…

Budget for adding value

If you’re not careful, you can find that your entire budget is consumed with “keeping the lights on,” leaving nothing for anything else. Don’t let this happen to you!

To avoid this problem, structure your budget around two distinct areas: (1) managing the basics, and (2) adding new technological value. Then take a look at the percentage of your budget that’s devoted to each of these areas and see if over time you can keep costs down while increasing the portion allocated to adding value. If you succeed, be sure to share this metric with your executive peers.

Structure your teams’ bonuses around these two distinct areas too. And if you can save money on the “managing the basics” aspect of your team’s work, then convince the business to plow those dollars back into adding even more new technological value.

Get to know your real customers

Many people in IT regard the internal end users as their real customers. They’re not. Your real customers are those who pay for your company’s products and services. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “as long as I’m serving my end users, it’s their responsibility to serve the ultimate customers.” If you take that approach, you’ll miss out on a lot of opportunities to bring value to your company and its customers.

Although your business colleagues may know your real customers well and may be able to tell you about them and their needs, as the IT leader there’s no substitute for getting out there and meeting some of these people yourself. So, for example, if you’re working with your sales team to build a website that your customers will use, don’t just rely on the sales execs to tell you what the system should do. Go out and speak with some customers to find out what they do and do not like about using similar systems.

Remember, these customers are all quite accustomed to using technology in their everyday lives, regularly accessing top-quality technology solutions that cost virtually nothing. They have very high expectations. You’ve got to figure out how to ensure your solution delights them, and it’s hard to do that without firsthand knowledge of what they actually want. There’s nothing worse than putting in a fantastic system that nobody uses because it didn’t meet their needs.

Embrace shadow IT

Although most IT leaders see shadow IT as a major problem (primarily because of the security concerns), there is another way to look at this. What shadow IT represents is technical innovation within the business. There are people who want to embrace technical solutions to solve their problems. But because IT tends to put up roadblocks, they make the decision to pursue these solutions in secret. They don’t want to be tied down with restrictions or wait months for things to be approved and get on IT’s schedule.

One of the benefits of building relationships with other executives (see Part 1 of this series) is that these relationships can give you an opportunity to learn about shadow IT installations…sometimes when they’re just in the idea stage. When this happens, I recommend that you meet with the people who are considering or using the shadow IT solution. Be very positive. Take the time to really understand the “why” behind what they’re doing. Then partner with them to combine your technical skills with their business skills, to create a collaborative solution or outcome.

Speed up your processes

Don’t disappoint people by getting them excited about a technology solution and then telling them they’ll have to wait 18 months to get it! By then the solution will be obsolete and the users may have turned to shadow IT options. You’ve got to find ways to speed things up.

Although it’s not always appropriate, Agile is often a great way to go. Agile methodology lets you deliver value much more quickly by starting with minimally viable products and services. The idea is to get something in and working right away and then build on it over time.

For example, a little while back I was working with a company where the marketing team wanted to put in a particular CRM platform. In fact, they were going to do it on their own until I heard of their plans. But when we looked at what it would take to put a big interface in, we saw we were looking at nine months’ worth of work. To avoid the wait we agreed to start off with a very limited interface that delivered the items that were most important to the marketing team. After providing immediate value we built out the rest over time. That’s the Agile approach.

Teach your team members how to work with business

IT folks are often very technical, with extensive technical training. But for IT to move closer to the business your team members need to be more well-rounded. You need to coach, mentor and train them in both soft skills and business skills, including…

  • Listening – Teach your team members to listen carefully and keep asking “why” until they fully understand the problem or opportunity that business is struggling with.
  • Communicating – Impress upon them the importance of communication, especially for keeping stakeholders apprised of where their projects stand. I like to ask my team to consider how they want to be communicated with. For example, if their car is in the shop, when would they prefer to find out that their car won’t be ready that day? Long before 5:00, so they have plenty of time to make alternative arrangements to get home, or when they arrive at 5:00 to pick up their car, after they’ve waved goodbye to the co-worker who drove them there?
  • Being problem solvers – Get your team members to avoid being naysayers. Most IT people can quickly tell you 15 reasons why you can’t do whatever it is that business wants to do. Your job is to get them to turn the conversation around. They first need to see the vision of what business wants and understand the value this would bring to the company Then, ask them to name the 15 things that would have to be done to achieve that outcome.

  • Being proactive – While you’re at it, also provide training on how to be proactive and innovative. Many IT people just sit and wait for requests from the business to come to them, but they can have far more value by generating their own technical innovations.

Conclusion

Doing all of these things to move IT much closer to the business has made a massive difference to me in my own career, and I hope that it helps you as well. While there’s no guarantee that you’ll get 10 pats on the back at your next leadership team development meeting, by doing these things you’ll be able to rest assured that you have made a significant contribution to moving your company forward with technology. And you’ll probably have had a lot more fun along the way!

 

About David Philippou

David is an influential and transformative global CIO with 20+ years in IT who he generates business value through strategy, innovation and execution. David’s deep multi-level expertise across the IT spectrum encompasses applications, development, infrastructure, service desk, analytics, cybersecurity and governance. His ability to balance technical, business and communication skills helps position IT as a true business partner.

About CIO Professional Services

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