Maximize IT: Answering your IT questions

by Kevin Squires
Kevin Squires is Vice President, Business Technology for the Econo-Rack Group of companies (Konstant, RediRack, Econo-Rack, Technirack.)
Kevin Squires is Vice President, Business
Technology for the Econo-Rack Group of companies (Konstant, RediRack, Econo-Rack, Technirack.)

I have been pleasantly surprised and humbled at the amount of email I have received from readers over the last year.

Many of your emails have centered around two very important areas: What are the differences in the “perception” of IT in a Fortune 500 company versus other companies, and how can the “value” of IT be increased in your organization. I am hoping that you may find some useful tidbits below on both of these topics.

Being fortunate enough to work for some great companies during my career, I can share my experience of how IT is conducted in a Fortune 500 company and how they differ from companies not on that list. It really comes down to scope: internal versus external.

In most Canadian companies, IT is seen as an enabler and is focused internally. IT is a “service” that ensures employees have the tools to do their jobs effectively, have the data they need when they need it, and can access that data and other corporate tools from anywhere, and to do this at as low a cost as possible.

This seems to be the standard IT setup for most non-Fortune 500 companies (I say ‘most’ since there are always exceptions.) This scenario makes sense since it fulfills the critical objective that an IT “service” organization has: keeping the company running efficiently from a technology perspective. This is obviously very important, but it doesn’t have to stop there.

In the Fortune 500 companies I have seen, they also ensure all their employees have the tools to do their job and also have that inward focus with the objective of an efficient organization. However, the main difference comes into play when you look at how IT is used externally.

Companies in this space view IT as a “weapon”, a tool to use in order to slice open the competition and gain an advantage that is ideally sustainable for years. These companies view IT as important to the potential revenue stream as any other business unit and even count on IT to help separate them from their competition in the minds of the customer.

Great in theory, but what does this look really look like in practice? Typically, an IT initiative should answer a key business question that is part of the overall strategy.

In a company I previously worked for, the business had a simple sales strategy: “Increase the time a sales rep spends with a physician during a ‘cold’ call.” There were reams of data that demonstrated more time with the customer meant more revenue. At the time, sales reps were using glossy information sheets to explain product information to the physicians during a meeting that lasted an average of 30 seconds.

IT saw an opportunity to help increase time with the physician by developing an interactive product presentation tool using a touch-screen laptop that would better engage the customer by allowing the customer to interact with the tool, answering questions based on case studies where they could see how their answers stacked up against their peers! We were able to leverage the new PC technology to dramatically increase the time in front of the doctor (up to five minutes!) with segmented product presentations. The result was a significant increase in revenue, using IT as a catalyst.

Lastly, with an “external” focus, most (if not all) of the initiatives in Fortune 500 companies are customer-centric versus company-centric which is why they have such a large effect on the revenue and can drive business growth.

The second question I am asked frequently is about increasing the perceived value of IT in your organization. This comes down to one word: Partnership. If the business units see IT as an active partner that is invested in their success then your IT stock will start to rise quickly.

But how do you create that partnership? You understand the business unit pain points at the ground level and develop solutions that directly address those areas. As I have mentioned in previous articles, participating in business strategy and planning sessions will help IT understand what is important to the business units which will allow IT to create solutions that address real needs and not needs perceived by IT.

Too many times IT goes off on its own and creates what it feels is a killer application for the business (usually at a significant cost) only to find out that it totally misses the mark. By understanding the real needs—and creating solutions that target those needs—will help you create strong partnerships which will serve to increase the value of IT significantly and quickly!

If you have any other inquiries, please feel free to drop me a line and I will do my best to get back to you.