3 ways to ensure your transformation ends with a ROI

As an executive that is looking to transform his organization, it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of a particular methodology, technology or performance improvement initiative. There is often a sense of exhilaration as the possibility of applying the methodology you’ve been reading about, hearing about, or training on to transform your organization. I know, having been at the beginning of this journey a few times, that the excitement of doing something different and the possibility of what the future can hold can be strong stuff, to the point where the focus on the effort is all consuming. This enthusiasm can be the source of energy that helps drive a transformation program through to completion, or it can also result in over engineering, excessive devotion to a particular approach or methodology and push the program into failure. This can be a major obstacle in getting to the return on investment that a particular methodology or approach promises. One thing the wide spread availability of best practice information and process improvement methodologies has done is whet the appetite of executives that want to reap the rewards of these best practices and transformational methodologies. This has triggered an explosion of growth within the training, conference and speaking industries, that has not necessarily been accompanied with a commensurate improvement in the performance of the organizations following these approaches. I follow three rules for getting the most of any transformational activity:
1. Be honest about readiness

Whether it’s a book you read, speaker you listened to, or a conference you attended, what you took away is generally based on one person or group’s experience or success applying a particular method or technique. Before diving into a transformation effort or making estimates about what your ROI might be, make sure you take into account your own unique circumstances. Do you have executive buy in? Do you have staff with experience in this area? Will you be able to provide the resourcing required to see the effort through while maintaining your existing service levels? Will you be able to source the training, consulting staff, etc. necessary to get you to value? What is your organization’s history with regard to implementing changes of this scale? Be honest at the beginning.
2. Be thin and incremental

Most transformational activities that I have seen fail in the implementation of the approach or best practice, don’t fail because the best practice or approach itself was flawed. Often this has to do with a failure to scope the activities or anticipate the real level of effort. I think most organizations would benefit from drawing their to-be view of the world and then focusing on incrementing the path to it, in a way that there are no huge leaps of faith in those increments. It is much easier to do this if you keep your initial vision as small as possible. Remember that what you are undertaking involves changing the way your organization works and thinks, and that this takes time and effort. Keep your increments small in order to provide yourself with checkpoints along the way. Getting to small wins will help you achieve your larger goals. Choosing to implement the smallest vision of the transformation effort that ends in value will ensure that you actually get to value.
3. Stay focused on value

One of the greatest temptations as you enter into a transformation program, is becoming consumed with process to the detriment of enterprise value. Transformational activities often involve the building of new skills and learning new things. It is easy to get carried away and lose the original focus of the project, which probably included a return on investment. It takes real discipline not to become consumed with an approach and the rigid implementation of every aspect of that approach. Every time you begin to add scope, develop further granularity, or add another level of decomposition or analysis, make sure you ask yourself the value question. Remember that the success of the effort will not be graded by how complete the implementation was, but rather on the value gained by the organization.If you follow the three simple rules above you may not win any awards for how complete your implementation is for a specific methodology or approach, but you can be assured that you will gain some value for your organization. This approach doesn’t just work for large transformation efforts. I try to ask myself these questions about my individual tasking and calendar items every day. Do I really need to completely re-organize my filing system or will I get more value by just filing the one thing I need. Sometimes you do need to allocate the resources to complete a major transformation, but I have found that more often than not I can get more real value much quicker by focusing on smaller increments and smaller goals.


Joshua Millsapps
Senior Partner, Millsapps, Ballinger & Associates
Twitter: @jmillsapps

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Getting Things Done: Three key takeaways that will change your performance

For most people life becomes more complex over time. I know that for myself, going from being a single college grad with few responsibilities outside of paying the rent to an executive balancing work and family life, has been a daunting task. For high performing individuals that hold themselves to uniformly lofty standards, the pressure to meet the endless sea of requests, requirements and tasks can be overwhelming. The resulting stress can and does seep into every aspect of your life.  This can negatively affect your health, relationships, and work performance.  If left unchecked, it can become a vicious cycle. I know that over time I’ve periodically attempted to get “radically” organized.  I’ll spend a weekend re-establishing my filing, building detailed calendaring systems, and generally getting organized in the extreme.  Inevitably, once Monday hits and the pressures come back, I start sliding back into old habits and managing everything in my head. I finally broke down and got an assistant in the belief that if I couldn’t stay organized on my own, then maybe I could hire someone to be organized for me.   None of it worked.
Then I was out on travel and was talking to a good friend who recommended I read GettingThings Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity by David Allen. I have traditionally been pretty skeptical of these sorts of organizational silver bullets. This is in large part because they haven’t ever really worked for me. Either they have been too complex or I just haven’t been able to see what value they provided. This book and its method were different right away. Rather than being a complex system for completely re-organizing your life, the focus repeatedly is on simplicity and real world usage. This dovetails with my own personal philosophy around managing organizational and personal performance, which can often be boiled down to “never over engineer.” I often find myself advocating for a less is more approach because too often executives become overwhelmed by the data available to them rather than being guided to the most relevant information needed to make a decision. Getting Things Done is for getting yourself organized. It is very focused on creating a maintainable, common sense oriented system that you can actually use. For myself, I haven’t implemented the whole system. I plan on implementing the whole system (eventually), but I have pulled 3 key concepts from the system that have completely changed my ability to get things done, manage the complexity of my life and feel better about how I spend my time.
The first thing I’ve taken away from the book is that I’ve joined my organization of my work life with my home life. I no longer attempt to maintain a fictional division of duties, as though some other gentleman is responsible for getting my kids to soccer practice, buying groceries or meeting with a teacher. As a card carrying member of the multiple kids, sports, and schools crew; my home calendar rivals my work calendar. Why I made an effort to separate these two parts of my life in my head makes no sense to me now. There is only one of me. Why I was trying to create artificial separation that lead to artificial complexity is anybody’s guess. I’ve implemented the Getting Things Done idea of using “contexts” for home and other major items, but I no longer try to maintain separate organizational systems for them.
The second key has been life changing for me. I now do anything that comes into my head that I can do in less than two minutes immediately. As someone for whom much of the mental clutter in their life is sending tasking to different team members or executing other tiny tasks, this has been enormously helpful. I have often sat at my desk and shoved those thoughts from my mind when I was trying to push through something that required my full attention. This created a backlog of tiny tasks that my mind simply could not stop pulling me back towards. Using this Getting Things Done concept I’ve been able to clear the desks of these little tasks and actually stay focused on the longer tasks that require extended periods of undivided attention. The fact is that by simply handling these as they come to mind I’ve significantly increased my daily productivity, and by clearing the decks of these tiny tasks I’ve been able to enjoy my leisure time because I don’t have a thousand tiny tasks buzzing around my head.
Finally, I’ve gone to writing everything down. I spent the day after I read the book dumping my entire mental to do list both personal and work life into OmniFocus, a Getting Things Done friendly productivity tool which is available for Mac, iPhone and iPad. At the end of the day I was shocked at how many things were tugging on my mind every day. The fact is that I had been feeling overwhelmed because I really had a lot on my plate. David Allen talks about executives being unable to sleep well or focus because of the sheer number of things pulling at their minds. Even while I was buying into the ideas he had in the book, I kind of laughed at the idea that putting these things down on paper or into electrons was going to change how I felt. It did. My wife has always said that she wonders what’s going on in my head sometimes. I know that I’ve often drifted into thought about something to do with work only to come back to the world and have missed my daughter’s description of what she did today at kindergarten. It is a terrible feeling. I was sacrificing quality time with my family because I couldn’t stop thinking about some obligation, meeting or project. The simple act of writing these down in a place I could always check freed me of the obligation to balance these things in my mind all of the time. I won’t say that I never think of the office when I’m away from work, but I do find that I rarely experience the nagging sensation that I’ve forgotten something or find myself fixating on work tasking during dinner. The act of putting these things into a place I’ll remember them has freed me to be in the moment with whatever I’m doing both at work and at home. For me, being able to devote my full attention to that one thing I’m working on has changed my personal performance both at home and at the office.
Just implementing these three simple things has changed my life and given me a peace of mind I haven’t felt since I had significantly fewer responsibilities. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article I came to read this book with a bit of a preconceived notion that most of this type of organizational self-help simply doesn’t work. I’ve changed my opinion after reading the book and I hope that you will take the time to do so as well; just remember that you don’t have to implement the whole thing to get value. I’ve started small and it has really been a game changer for me. Just grab some of the concepts he has that appeal to areas of weakness in your personal organizational efforts. As a former skeptic, it’s worth the time and effort.

Have feedback? See me online at @jmillsapps on twitter.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Can you talk to the business in business terms?

I wrote last week on the importance of running your IT organization like a business and what I got back was that I had fallen into the classic trap of providing advice on what to do, but no insight into how to do it. This week I’m going to try to fix that by talking directly to how you can talk to the impact your IT organization has on some of the classic business measures without forgetting that these are being seen through the lens of the IT organization. In the following section I have identified some important talking points IT executives should use when framing their impact to the organization. For each major business driver I have identified a few questions you should ask yourself and then identified a few ways that you can express how your organization can frame its impact on these important business focused measurements. So put your business hat on and change your IT centric mindset.


How do you talk to the business?



Growth

Growth is the lifeblood of most business discussions and finding ways to frame the IT organizations impact on growth is critical if you are going to forge a lasting partnership with the business. Growth comes in two flavors top line meaning adding to the company’s overall sales and revenues and bottom line essentially the company’s income after all of the expenses have been deducted from revenues. One of the reasons that the technology portion of Corporate Marketing Officer budgets has been steadily growing over the last few years is because of how much impact technology has on top line growth. The impact of social/new media, big data and analytics on sales and top line growth has made technology part of the executive discussion when avenues for new growth are being discussed. Unfortunately, these initiatives are often done as one-offs rather than as a comprehensive plan. Understanding the interplay between an analysis of existing customer data, trends within your organizations social presence and planned technology investments ensures that the IT organization is able to support top line growth without putting additional pressures on the bottom line. Growing the bottom line can occur by growing revenues while holding expenses constant as a function of revenues or in an ideal world reducing those expenses so that the bottom line grows faster than revenues. Technology can help here by reducing the costs associated with the delivery of the business capabilities necessary to support top line growth. Technology is critical to support growth based on the 90/10, 80/20, 70/30 investment concept as well.  By spending 90% of its IT dollars for legacy operations and only 10% for improvement or future operations most organization’s are unable to keep up with organizational needs.  At 80% legacy, 20% improvement/re-capitalization most organizations are treading water.  At 70/30 or 60/40, depending on risk tolerance and the industry sector, is an organization that should be improving its posture relative to the market and industry. These are rules of thumb of course, and not hard and fast but they should prompt the right type of thinking. How the IT organization gets to that more innovative mix may include a mix of new investment and cost savings and the removal of redundancy from the existing investment mix to reduce spend and legacy investment.

What you should ask yourself

Is our technology aligned to our strategy?
Is our technology helping us reduce the cost to deliver business capabilities?
How does technology support our growth strategy?
Is our technology organization investing to meet the growth strategy of the company?

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

Develop the mapping of strategy to the technology that supports it.
Express your IT portfolio to ensure that growth and innovation are identified.

Risk

Risk includes the prospect and impact of uncertainties including those caused by both events and those tied to a lack of information. Recent events within our economy have highlighted the impact risk can have on a company and the economy as a whole, and most company’s are looking for ways to reduce risk both by better understanding their operating environment as well as by mitigating the outcomes of adverse risk related events. Within the technology organization a real opportunity exists to highlight enterprise risk that may otherwise go unnoticed. In this day and age, technology organizations span and support almost every aspect of the business. They support business processes, data collection, manage information exchange, understand who has access to what information and have opportunity to see the enterprise in a more holistic fashion than most individual business units. This cross cutting view, if leveraged, not only provides enormous opportunity to improve performance but also helps to understand systemic risk. The problem is that IT alone is often a few steps short of taking the holistic understanding of the businesses technology environment and using it to help the organization reduce its exposure to adverse risk. What is the real cost of downtime, security breach, etc.? What are the effects that ripple across the system? In an era of enhanced data sharing across business applications and a focus on analysis the same innovations driving top line growth may bring with them new risks. IT organizations need to be aware of and ensure they can adequately address the business risk buried within the technology.

What you should ask yourself

Do you understand which technologies support business capabilities and their risks?
Do you understand the risk profile of your IT investments?
Do you understand the risk profile of your IT organization?

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

Develop an enterprise risk map incorporating both IT and business risk so that concentrations of business and IT risk that cluster together are understood holistically.

Consumer Trends

Evolving consumer behaviors, expectations and desirements are driving purchasing behaviors and successful companies are able to keep abreast with this more rapid pace of change. The world of information has fundamentally changed and with it so has doing business. The saying that “Bad news travels fast” has never been truer, in an age where Twitter and Facebook make real time product evaluation a reality. The up side is that there has also never been so many ways to get close to, interact with and understand customers and potential customers. The level of pre, post and in sale opportunities for technology savvy companies is growing daily and companies that are able to stay better in synch with their customers will have a sustainable competitive advantage. Helping the business understand how you are developing your technology organization to better understand and interact with the customer and how you will use this to drive sales makes technology relevant to the business. Master Data Management doesn’t matter to business people unless they can understand why having access to specific information (customer sales) data can be helpful across multiple departments, systems and organizations.

What you should ask

How is our technology helping us understand our customers?
Is our technology able to meet evolving customer needs?
Are we getting enough information about our customers?
Is our technology helping us influence our customers?

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

Develop a mapping of evolving customer requirements, the businesses efforts to meet these requirements and the paths by which IT is supporting those efforts. Hint: Think multi-level. (Social Media, Big Data, MDM, etc)

Supply Chain Management

This includes the management of all of the businesses, activities, materials and information required to deliver from the various points of origin for raw materials to the value being delivered to the end customer. The modern supply chain is global in scope and includes a vast sea of participants all playing some small or large role in delivering the end value enjoyed by and purchased by the customer. This chain enables some pretty incredible cost savings to be passed on to consumers or taken by companies as profit. The combination of the supply chains breadth in spanning the distance from raw materials to the end customer, and complexity due to its many participants, events, and processes; the supply chain can be a place where major transformation of the bottom line occurs. Even small changes in the friction between moving parts can create enormous changes to the bottom line and in some cases improve the top line by improving time to market. Despite the enormous opportunity for cost savings, efficiency gains and increased profitability, the scope and complexity of the activity nearly ensure that the technology organization could be further improving the performance in this area.

What you should ask

Have we identified areas of improvement within our supply chain?
Where are the areas of “friction” within the supply chain?
Do we understand the supply chain well enough to drive down costs?

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

Overlay the complex and dynamic supply and demand network with the technologies and investments supporting these efforts. Highlight pain points.

Selling, General and Administrative Expense (SG&A)

SG&A includes expenses directly linked to the sales of individual product as well as indirect expenses allocated proportionally to sales and administrative costs like those reflected in the technology budget. A myriad of opportunities exist here for the technology organization to reduce the expenses by reducing the costs to deliver technology services. There is also a real opportunity for the technology organization to lead the reduction in cost in other areas within the organization that contribute to SG&A by understanding the major business processes surrounding and embedded within cost centers and working to implement technologies that can reduce the cost of doing business.

What you should ask

Where are the business processes that could benefit most from technology/modernization?
Where are the opportunities to reduce existing IT costs by moving to the cloud, outsourcing, etc. in order to reduce the cost to deliver capability?
Am I using the optimal technology mix to deliver my organizations capabilities?

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

Within your investment portfolio identify the projects that will specifically go to reducing overhead.
Display the process by which the IT organization works to discover and modernize business processes in order to reduce overhead including those results.

Time to market

Time to market is the gap in time between organization having the idea for a product and delivering it. The technology organization should be able to close this gap over time by fostering collaboration; increasing organizational agility and helping the organization make sense of market data in order to put more organizational focus behind ideas that are right for the market.

What you should ask

How does the technology organization support collaboration?
How easy is it for the organization to exchange data?
Does the organization have well defined and re-usable services available?
Is the technology organization capable of supporting experimentation by the business (POCs)?
How hard is it for the business to start a technology project?

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

Plot IT investments on a timeline and include the business initiative spawning the investment along with business initiatives made after the investment in order to better present to the business the ongoing value of past investments to future operations. The idea is to convey the idea of re-use and reduced time to market.

Technology investments

Technology investments are made with one purpose to recognize a gain in profits or benefits from the acquired technology. However many organizations have trouble making discreet business cases for investments in technology that are not directly tied to a specific project or program. Investments in technology strategy, planning, security, and even ongoing operations become a gray area as their distance from the customer grows. Many organizations struggle to get investments that IT executive “know” are necessary because they cannot describe the organizational return in a manner that resonates with business executives. Similarly, executives struggle for funding for “glue” initiatives that enable the exchange of information between applications, constrain technology purchasing decisions, or impose hard to define enterprise value over easier to quantify project value.

What you should ask

Do we have a repeatable process for developing an understanding of what the business will get from the technology?
Are we identifying and pursuing the technologies and solutions that will have a high ROI?
Is the business defined well enough to show how technology supports the different facets of the organization?

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

Graphically display the value of the infrastructure investments necessary to support the “projects” of the organization. In many organizations executives are less likely to question project type investments that have easily calculated ROIs but balk at the cost of the underlying capabilities and their costs. When these costs are simply allocated across units and projects as a slice or tax they are more likely to be characterized as excessive. Hint: This works better if your projects total area in the representation is larger than the projects.

Competitive landscape

The competitive landscape for most companies is rapidly evolving with factors including competitive rivalry, suppliers, customers, and new entrants and products. Each can play a unique role in reshaping industry dynamics and the interplay between the factors can make discerning the root causes of contributing factors difficult to understand at the same time that the reality of the change is greatly effecting the bottom line. Technology can play an enormous role in changing the competitive landscape by helping the organization directly attack a factor that is an obstacle for it within the competitive landscape. An example might be reducing switching costs for new customers by handling the movement of their data or reducing the bargaining power of suppliers by having better insight into material costs or enhancing your ability to work with more suppliers.

What you should ask

Have we identified the role technology can play in influencing the competitive landscape?
How does our technology support competitive advantage?
What technologies do our competitors use to gain advantage?
What technologies do our customers use that are changing the competitive landscape?
What technologies will change our relationship with our suppliers?

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

Lay out a matrix with competitors and capabilities that result in competitive advantage. Next, score yourself against each competitor. This can be a good way of understanding how your technology is helping you win in some areas and may fall short in others.
Joshua Millsapps
Senior Partner, Millsapps, Ballinger & Associates
Twitter: @jmillsapps

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Run your IT organization like a business

The current economic climate has put a particular emphasis on the efficiency and effectiveness of organizational projects and IT portfolios. Programs and projects that are unable to demonstrate a reasonable return on investment are being punished, and in many cases rightfully so. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your particular vantage point, management’s axe is falling on those whose outcome is not well defined, whose numbers don’t add up, or worse who simply have no numbers. As a firm believer in having well defined outcomes, business cases and aligning change initiatives, programs, projects and other organizational resources to strategy.  I think that this is probably a good thing. In the short term however, both evaluators and those being evaluated will need to work together to ensure that the unfortunate consequences of this new focus on the outcomes, alignment and return on investment are protected and advocated for by people with similar requirements and “desirements”. This will only work if those same people have comparable abilities to “market” their interests. This can be a serious problem for the organization as a whole if management doesn’t recognize that there may be a gap between perceived value and real value. One of the things that is fairly widely accepted in the business world is that you should be careful what you measure because what you measure will get done. The renewed focus on accountability and return on investment across many organizations is essentially a renewed emphasis on measuring based on these yardsticks. I believe that in the long run this will have enormous benefit for organizations that stick with it and evolve their project and portfolio management efforts in coordination with an overarching performance management program. In the short run it may cause enterprise problems by punishing organizations, programs and projects that are delivering results but aren’t able to enunciate their value. IT executives take note; this may be a major problem for you sooner rather than later. Most business executives are fluent in the business case and live and breathe return on investment, they may also have more access to experienced sales and marketing professionals. IT executives generally don’t have that same expertise on staff, or in their personal background. This is compounded by a real gap in understanding – how what they do actually does impact the business.
How well can you present the benefit the business gets from your resources? How much did it help them? What were the outcomes that resulted? Executives that aren’t able to answer these questions are going to lose the budget battles in tight economic times, they are also going to lose control of their portfolios over time to outside vendors that can better enunciate their value proposition. I’m not advocating that IT executives develop their own marketing department, but I do think that there are some real lessons that need to be learned by IT in order to ensure that their efforts are appreciated and that the organization as a whole gets the value it is supposed to from their technology organization. The following 3 steps will help the IT executive better communicate the value to the business.
Step One: Establish ongoing relationships and remember to take credit. This can be as simple as developing a systematic approach to gathering the fruits of your success in order to reflect some of that glory back to your unit as a key enabler. Did your team help bring on a critical new application that increased sales? Go to the business unit and get the numbers. Did you make some course corrections during the delivery to tailor the application for the business? Get a quote from someone. Think of it as an internal press release to help generate more business (funding) for your IT department. More importantly make gathering this type of feedback a part of every project’s execution. One of the biggest things most IT shops need to come to grips with in this new era is that they are no longer operating as monopolies within their organizations. The proliferation of options and changing expectations of stakeholders means that you are now in competition with a wide range of vendors for wallet share within your own organization. Those vendors will have marketing and sales teams, you need to counter this by building your internal communications practice, developing business side advocates and taking advantage of your domain expertise. I want to be very clear – I’m not advocating for a territorial IT department that pushes back on initiatives just because they use outside vendors. I’m suggesting that we are entering an era when internal IT departments can lose budget to outside vendors based on a lack of marketing rather than a lack of competitive offerings. I think this competitive environment is good in the long term and probably means that we will see successful internal IT departments that are much more tightly integrated with the business than ever before, because those that don’t will see their influence and footprint erode substantially as outside vendors that are willing to work closely with the business win more and more wallet share. Remember that you need to reach out to the business units regularly. Not just to let them know when the network is down but to let them know what you are doing to help support their initiatives and to provide opportunities for feedback.
Step Two: Establish a set of criteria for success that you can tie to the value proposition and the organizations values. Many of the measurements we are accustomed to in IT – from uptime to help ticket resolution – don’t clearly tie back to the bottom line. They are probably good to do, for example it is probably good for the corporate website to be up and running at all times, but what does that mean for the business? How many visitors does your site get? What do you know about those visitors? What percentage of your corporate revenue is dependent on the supply chain system running in your datacenters? If you process 65,000 transactions a month that account for 1/2 the corporate revenues related to a specific line of business and every outage of more than 2 minutes costs you thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, it provides context for “overhead” expenditures. Does the line of business you are supporting really understand what they are getting for their dollars if you are working on a fee basis? I spend a lot of time with business side executives that don’t understand what they are getting for the 7 million they spend every year on IT. The story IT tells has to be tied to the story of the business and its success, clearly aligned to the success of the business. If you can’t tell that story then something is probably wrong not just in how you are marketing yourself to the organization but in how you are executing your programs. You should be able to clearly work backwards from the strategic approaches of the business to best understand how each is enhanced by your technology offerings. If you aren’t sure how your programs are critical to executing the business you can be sure that the business is wondering the same and eventually that wonder will culminate in budget cutting or re-allocation. If your organization has a clear strategy coming from executive leadership, it is worth taking the time to align your internal strategies to that top-level strategy. Similarly for performance indicators, taking the time to align these ensures that you can clearly talk to how your efforts support the business.
Step Three: Start thinking like you are in business to support the business. This means developing the in house skill to develop business cases, strategic communications and relationships. Again, I’m not suggesting that you need to go out and get a sales and marketing staff, but the IT staff has to start thinking about things that used to be “business” stuff. Developing business side relationships are critical and will improve your performance over time. Spending time cultivating those relationships will not only ensure you have an advocate at budget time, but will ensure that you are responsive and are deserving of that advocacy. Don’t think of it as a sales job, think of it as requirements gathering. Great sales people are great at client side requirements. This is a skill worth building in your organization. No outside vendor should be able to beat your team in understanding your own organizations requirements, yet I have often heard from business executives that they decided to do something because vendor “X” really got their problem. How is this possible for an outside sales team? How could an outside team come in and beat you at understanding your own organizations requirements? If an outside vendor has the right technology to meet your business requirements you should be the first to realize it and should be the ones bringing the vendor to the business rather than evaluating it after the fact. Don’t depend on the business to drag you to their next set of requirements. One of the greatest competitive advantages your organization should have is an absolute lock down on domain expertise. To be successful and stay relevant you must exploit this to your fullest advantage. Identify and begin talking to your business customers about the technologies and solutions that are going to be changing the industry before the vendors of the same start talking to your business. This isn’t about shutting them out, because to be a successful IT organization you will need to bring in and adopt some of these same technologies in order to ensure the business is successful. It is about ensuring that you have the confidence of the business. Every time the business hears a pitch about something that a competitor is doing to save money, enhance productivity, etc. that you haven’t talked to first you lose credibility and eventually this will affect the performance of the organization as a whole.
Finally, I hope that the above isn’t taken as an approach to maintain control and budget over increasing performance. Quite the contrary, I believe that running the IT organization more like a business will significantly increase performance both within the IT organization itself and for the organization as a whole. At the core of this statement is a belief in competition and clarity, which I think are closely tied in this case. I think that as organizations demand more clarity and insight into what they are getting for their money that competition for those dollars will intensify between internal and external organizations. I believe that this is a good thing and that it will play a key role in driving the sort of business and technology partnership that is so often talked about but so rarely realized. I also believe that organizations are opening themselves up to making terrible mistakes if their internal executives do not prepare themselves to participate in a more competitive environment. The world is changing and as more technology savvy business people enter the working world, the unquestioned expertise in all things technology related will no longer be ceded to the IT department. Business executives who are comfortable with technology and who depend on highly sophisticated technology in their lives outside of work are going to bring with them a different set of expectations. These executives are going to be more likely to expect agility, more likely to be aware of other options, and increasingly likely to question the wisdom of the IT organization. In order to meet that challenge the IT organization is going to have to evolve if it expects to thrive. Part of that success is in thinking more like and acting more like a business that is competing for their own organizational dollars because, like it or not you are.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

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