Engaging IT to business – reloaded

IT2BusinessIt was back in October last year when I wrote the original article Engaging IT to business. Through many discussions on LinkedIn or during various events where I participated, I came to the conclusion that my ideas presented in the article were just the beginning. I do not aspire to offer a complete and final concept, but some of ideas presented below might help you in your own voyage on engaging IT to business.

The key element behind the idea of engaging IT to business is the wish of IT managers to become partners to their business peers, of IT departments getting rid of the label of a cost centre and service provider “only” or of CIOs who wish to get a seat in the board.  Getting there is not easy, but I’d like to share a few ideas how to start the road to get there (… and back again).

The ball in on IT’s side. It is important to realise that it is IT that “would like to” be recognized as a partner to business, so it is IT that needs to be proactive and do the first (and several next) step. Opinions of your business peers won’t change all alone or because you wish so. Instead, IT needs to take the ball and work step by step to shift the existing paradigm. Listening to business, proactively seeking gaps to fill, taking the extra mile, generating IT driven revenue and  sharing with business might be right tools to earn “IT’s place in the sun”.

Listen to business. Sounds too simple, but in fact – this is the key to any IT initiative to engage with business. Business has is always in need to help and support, there are always sore points in need of attention or defunct processes in need of mending. Bad news is that very few of those aching issues are visible from the distance or advertised openly. It should be one of CIO’s top priorities to engage business peers in conversations trying to figure out what is bothering them. There are many different ways the CIO can take, staring from joining sales and marketing meetings, through spending a day in a week out of the HQ in the front (sales) lines, up to informal coffee events sponsored by IT. Taking an found issue as a starting point, IT should be able to mitigate pros and cons and prepare a plan how to solve it.

Proactivity is the key. Opportunities to show business that IT is actually a partner and can get things done will rarely appear out of nowhere.  In the contrary, it is IT that needs to take an proactive approach and create such opportunities. Taking a classic example … there is a new business initiative that has really the potential to make a difference, but it requires several changes in existing IT infrastructure, extra funds to buy a new server cluster and extra human resources supporting the whole idea. Considering costs, risk of negative impact to overall system stability and performance, tight time schedule for implementation and general negative perception of changes … IT usually states that this initiative / project cannot be done. But it takes not much more to come with an approach to evaluate and accept the risk of failure, find maybe a less traditional IT infrastructure concept and personal engagement within the IT department to actually say “YES” to business and make the initiative / project happen.

Take the extra mile. Requests from business are usually processed and issues or incidents solved. There difference is in customer experience as any job or task can be done well enough … or to a point of perfection.  IT should strive to take the extra mile as often as possible … not only fulfilling requests from business but rather exceeding their expectations. When asked to provide an analysis, add some extra statistical charts or add data for a larger period of time than requested. When there is a planned system downtime, makes sure that after all the systems  will be back online to check with key users if respective systems are running correctly. Should there be a repeating problem with an application regularly used, do not only solve that bug, but create some manuals or FAQs and offer in-house training to respective users.

 Generating IT driven revenue. Usually IT is supporting business processes and enabling other business units to create revenue. While this task is important, it still puts IT in the role of a service provider. IT can be presented very differently when there will be projects / initiatives sponsored and executed by IT that actually directly generate revenue. In addition to supporting your business to increase your company’s revenue, make and keep a commitment to identify, develop, get required acceptance, execute and support IT projects directly making money … at least once in a year. Staring from new payment methods, through increasing customer loyalty up to new digital products for direct sale … possibilities are endless.    

 Share with business. There are many decision made by IT that are effecting the entire company – main technology framework, BYOD, outsourcing, information security guidelines … .Inviting business managers to join the process of decision making for such projects / initiatives can bring valuable opinions, hints and ideas based on ‘real business’ experience as well as a strong feeling of engagement. Invite your business peers into respective steering committees,  create IT open days, creative IT workshops and informal meetings (Meet your IT procurement guy …). Get the buy-in from your peers to increase the acceptance.