Business Leaders – Be curious about IT, you won’t regret it

Posted on April 1, 2009

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listening-ear1Improving the IT competency of business leaders should be a key objective for CIO. This post is part of a serie that intends to share key concepts of IT that are not always clearly understood by business leaders.

Please share your thoughts.

There are two words in “I.T.”

Information & Technology :This association constitutes the main challenge of the function.
INFORMATION                           TECHNOLOGY
Value                                               Cost
Permanent                                     Short cycle
Accurate                                         Controllable
Available                                        Resilient
Complete                                       Flexible
Ubiquitous                                    Selective
Captured, shared, enriched           Collaborative
People business                           System business
Context driven                             Process driven
Unique                                          Standard

Information which truly constitutes the value is by nature volatile, owned by everyone, interpreted, discussed, exchanged. The associated technologies perceived as cost aim at holding, managing, transferring and controlling this information. To do so every information need a structure and rules integrated in several business systems. The necessary bridge between this flexible world of information and the rigid context of technology is called IT.

IT related projects are usually associated with changes in the organization and its related processes, which make them complex initiatives and associated return hardly predictable.

By implementing a system we are modifying the way people work and interact with each others, which impact negatively their productivity in the first step. The goal of an implementation is not to set up a new system but to reduce the lead time of the net expected productivity. In addition, people, in the way they are working, have during years forged and designed behavioural strategies to adapt to specific situations and constraints. When you endeavour such project it is critical to identify this context and address it when designing the new system. Failure to do it could lead to high resistance and further downgrade the expected return.

If you manage IT as a pure cost you will only get the costs.

IT is a complex eco-system where each component (systems, people, services, data etc…) interact with each others. Cost management tends to reduce to an elementary vision this eco-system, challenging its consistency and equilibrium. The value of your systems must be considered as a whole. Proper IT management should already be focusing on the management of its own cost (periodical review of contract, standard communication regarding the good usage of technology, technology veil to implement new and cheaper innovation, system monitoring etc…). If this not the case, invest in training and implementation of these best practices. Do not wait tough economical time, to establish yearly objectives on savings, do it all the time. And if necessary, do not launch a cost reduction campaign but rather a service reduction campaign.

IT is disruptive by nature; expect to ear about it.

We can ear this sentence in any organization “I don’t care about IT, I just want my systems up and running”. It shows a poor understanding of the impact of system on people productivity and morale. It is like saying “I don’t care about people; I just want them to execute as plan”. Obviously no professional manager will say that, as they are paid to make sure people can achieve their objectives. But because the performance of people is more and more linked with the technology they are using and the way they are using it, it is the duty of every manager to ear and care about IT.

Without Governance there is no IT function (just a budget line), and it becomes a user-owned business.

Each society has a set of rules that maintain order in the system (should it be social, economic, cultural etc…). It is the same for IT and it is the responsibility of business leaders to ensure that this is properly enforced. Governance ensures that investment are aligned with the strategy, that usage of information is done properly, that potential fraud are detected and addressed, that people understand how the systems works and that everyone is protected.  Have a look at a proposed  framework to start working on it.

Do not allow IT to become a black box and internally focused.

You understand by now that you should be involved in IT. The complexity is that you are not a technology expert. And this is not what is required. But rather, understanding that everything that people do in your organization is done thru systems, hence influencing their performance is critical. Don’t let technology be a barrier, but show interest in the way IT is impacting your organization and how it should further improve its productivity and develop new market opportunities. IT professionals understand the Information & Technology equation, but need to insure that expectations are managed and investment aligned with the overall strategy. Open-book communication with IT will deliver incredible value. IT performance is directly linked to the ability of an organization to collaborate and its level of IT education.
Last but not least, the mission statement of IT is to create value, service the extended enterprise and protect all parties. Very similar to any business indeed