Making IT a valuable dance partner

by Kevin Squires
Kevin Squires
Kevin Squires

After a week of more than normal discussions with my peers on all things IT, I am somewhat surprised that so many of my colleagues focus on the “enablement” technologies; to help enable the business to be more efficient, productive.

Sounds good, right? It does. And it is definitely an important part, but I see IT as more. Much more.

IT doesn’t just need to talk to the business; they need to be PART of the business. To truly know the nuances that will generate real value, IT needs to embed themselves into the business units—eat the same food, breathe the same air—figuratively of course.

It’s a lesson I learned from Sav DiPasquale (2010 Canadian CIO of the Year—and for good reason.) He never saw IT as a technological end game, but as an extension of the unique business unit with specific skills that could be used in non-traditional ways to help break down obstacles and clear the path for true value and innovation; a conduit to allow the business to break free from “normal” methods and experience new growth.

Unfortunately, there is an Achilles heel to this match made in heaven. Oddly enough, the business has to “want” to innovate, they have to “want” to move forward, they have to “want” to be successful. As silly as it may sound, sometimes the business is happy with the status quo and resists change.

It is this all-to-common situation where the challenges of IT truly begin. “Good is the enemy of Great.” IT needs to help the business see the vision and understand that, together, they can change the game and approach old problems with new solutions. To be a leader and a catalyst for change and growth. In the end, the actual solution and technology is the easy part.

IT’s real power comes from using technology to strike that perfect balance between enablement and differentiator; enabling the business by helping them to define and open a new door–then adding real value by not only ensuring they are the best dressed person at the party when they walk through the door but that the party is all about them. And everyone wants what they are selling–a true synergy that works when IT isn’t on the outside looking in, but inside, working with the business on the best way to look out.

So, easier said than done, right? Well, believe it or not, it isn’t as difficult as you would expect. However, like dancing, it takes time, discipline and, most of all, practice to have it become second nature.

There are two elements vital to the success of IT in any organization. The first critical element is ensuring that you have a resource dedicated to each business unit. Yes, dedicated.

The sole purpose of this resource is to get into the trenches and help dig. There are too many IT departments who see the trench, stand up top and put together a project focused on how to develop a better shovel algorithm–since that is what they believe the business might want.

Although that can yield some adequate results, if you want true breakthroughs on creating business value on multiple fronts, IT needs to jump down into the trench, grab a shovel and dig. Get dirty, sweaty and muddy and experience the pain.

That is when IT will fully understand what is truly going on with the business. That understanding, more often than not, in an innovative solution that can catapult the business forward, drive growth and increase IT’s credibility in the boardroom. A dedicated IT resource is the key to this understanding. If your IT shop is lean, then your resources may have to jump in more than one trench. But the rewards are worth it.

The second critical element is the IT project portfolio; specifically, the creation of the portfolio. There isn’t a better way to create a prioritized, balanced and credible IT project portfolio than ensuring your IT resources and business representatives are all in the same room, tasked with the responsibility of forging this document through a robust, educated discussion.

It has been my experience that allowing the business to participate in setting the projects and project priorities usually results in a very passionate and dynamic discussion that, in the end, clearly outlines the prioritized projects while establishing business buy-in and strengthening the bond between IT and the business units. Of course this approach requires a good deal of pre-work by IT, but the results are generally outstanding and demonstrate that IT is clearly making the needs of the business the true driver.

To wrap it all up, you have your dedicated IT resource then present the portfolio to their individual business units, clearly showing what IT will work on during the year and how it will measure success. Then, at the end of the year, they do the same presentation to show what they said they would do and what they did and how successful they were at doing it.

Total alignment between partners is crucial to success; from the Waltz, to the Pasodoble to the Tango, you need to be in sync with your partner and ensure you are dancing to the same rhythm. The same can be said for IT and the business: you have to both hear the same music, dance the same dance so that, in the end, you both finish to the resounding applause of the shareholders.

Kevin Squires has led IT for over twenty years in the Pharmaceutical Industry with Novo Nordisk and GlaxoSmithKline and most recently in the Manufacturing sector as the Vice President, Business Technology for Konstant (RediRack).