IT knows best? Not likely…
Six steps to bridge the IT and Business divide
Most solutions produced by IT are software packages that have all the bells and whistles in them typically selected from software vendors that claim they’ve followed "best practice" or a research firm has placed them in the top 5 of their listings. There is nothing wrong with leveraging industry information or standards, writes contributor Ted Boggs, but when no one understands the root of the problem, how do we know what the "Best Practices" are or should be?
Companies spend millions of dollars every year on IT solutions that end up failing (some estimate the failure rate to be over 80%). Whose fault is that? Consider the following scenario:
The Business: We are beginning to lose business to our competition because we cannot get the product out the door in time to meet our customer’s expectations
IT: I will take this back to my organization and have a solution for you tomorrow
(The next day…)
The Business: Ok tell us the solution?
IT: We spent the rest of the day and into the part of the night researching out a new application that will fix all our problems.
The Business: Great! Let’s get a P.O. cut and let's get going. We need this to be installed and fully functional in 2 months. We believe we can convince our customers to wait this long before losing them.
The business is setting itself up for failure if it puts all responsibility for finding solutions onto IT
Sadly, this scenario plays out daily in big and small companies alike - the business expects IT to solve all of their problems. So IT proposes a solution and the business signs off on it. The business has high hopes that the new technology will resolve all the pain they’ve been feeling. Ridiculous time pressure is added into the mix because it’s felt that the problem is reaching crisis proportions and the business is scrambling for something - and quickly.
The big question is this: does IT know more about the business processes than the business? Of course not! Most solutions produced by IT are software packages that have all the bells and whistles that IT believes the business needs. Most times this is based on the software vendor stating they have followed "best practice" or a research firm has placed them in the top 5 of their listings.
There is nothing wrong with leveraging industry information or standards, but when no one understands the root of the problem, how do we know what the "Best Practices" are or should be? In the scenario above, it’s more than certain that IT will not meet the two month time frame and the business will take a terrible hit on their bottom line including customer loss. Things will only get worse from there.
You are probably thinking, ok, yes I have experienced some or all of the above problems and a whole lot more. The question is how do I change this and keep this from happening?
Below are some steps to take to build bridges between IT and the Business that can significantly reduce the chances of the above scenario outcome from coming true.
Step 1: Build a quick but effective business case and solidify an Executive Sponsor or Champion
A suggested business case should include the dollars spent in failed or unfinished solutions and the lost revenue resulting from the failed solutions. Then find the executive that understands the importance of process first then the technology. This executive will help turn the tide and put the accountability of the business change on the business. If you can find an IT executive that understands this as well get him or her to be a sponsor or champion. Having both of them working together will help. Step 1 works and is key even in technology companies.
Step 2: Communicate internally about the need for the change in the way we approach the solutions to problems
Utilize the business case to drive the urgency and need for change. Then utilize all communication channels especially the sponsor/champion. Leverage marketing help in crafting and distributing the internal communications.
Step 3: Establish a cross-functional core team that brings together IT and the Business
The number of participants depends on the number of departments to be included. This team should work to create a process to be followed to fix and if needed implement an IT solution. Having the cross-functional team involved in the development of a process will help with their ownership and accountability for compliance and will help ensure success. This is not an easy task by any means and should be approached with an open mind by everyone involved. This will help to build a coalition among all team members.
Step 4: Utilize the cross-functional team to establish a process to go from a process improvement to an IT solution
Any process that will work in your organization will do. Here is a suggested process to create and follow might be:
Model the current state process
- Interview the subject matter experts
- Capture metrics for the process (e.g., volume, # emp., cycle time, etc.)
- Identify gaps
- Process owner(s)
- Other groups impacted by the process output and impacting the process input
- Build the future state process
- Document the business requirements
- Pass to IT for functional and system requirements
- Initiate an RFP process
- Conduct a proof of concept (if possible, it is recommended to involve more than one vendor)
- Pick, test and implement the solution
Step 5: Review and obtain buy-in and support to the new process from the sponsor/champion
Included in the presentation with the sponsor/champion you should give them a task to do. The suggested task is to have them share the new process with their appropriate peers and throughout their organization
Step 6: Utilize all communication channels to announce the new process
Included in this communication should be a reiteration of the urgency, the alignment with the company strategy, and what the expected benefits are for the business and IT working together on a solution instead of in silos.
The steps listed above are steps my team and I have used to drive this change. However, mixing IT and the Business will also help with IT listening to the business and not trying to drive it. Everyone has the best intentions in mind, but if work is done in silos and the business is not driving itself and partnering with IT, then it will tend to end up like the scenario above.