As IT consultants, we are increasingly faced with this question from business owners and senior executives. Companies are under enormous pressure to do more with less and IT is critical to supporting all the areas of the business including: Finance, HR, Operations & Logistics, Sales & Marketing, Customer Service, and Product/Service Development.
While the question seems simple enough on the surface, there are a myriad of reasons why IT does not perform as expected by the senior management. It is also very important to understand what someone means by ‘Make my IT Better’.
Typically, ‘Making IT Better’ means making it faster, safer, and secure, more reliable, effective, transparent, easy to use, competitive, and proactive. But depending on the organization, some of these points are more important than others.
IT departments are continually challenged because they are arguably the most evolving function in the organization and face the most pressure to keep current while keeping the lights on. Furthermore, delivering to the highest level requires increasing investment in time and dollars when costs are under all-time high levels of scrutiny and control.
So, as the IT leader, what is the best way to answer this question?
For any IT leader, this question should be the key driver for all they do. And it should never be a surprise or difficult to answer. Success as the head of IT comes as a result of knowing who the customers are and the best way to serve each stakeholder group. When business executives are asking this question, it means that the IT team has to step up their game quickly. But where to start?
There are a few critical areas that must be at the top of the IT leader’s agenda including:
Having open dialogue with each area of the business makes the difference between success and failure as an IT function. Efficiency and speed do not matter if users are not connected to their IT team. It is incumbent on any IT leader to foster a sense of team and openness between members of the IT group and the other departments. Formal and informal connections go a long way to ensuring a harmonious and fruitful relationship.
Business Understanding and Alignment
A best practice for any effective IT leader involves ensuring members of the IT team spend time in the business unit to learn how things ‘really’ work. Building bridges and gaining insights into the business processes that enable the company to operate will provide IT staff with deeper understanding of where IT solutions can generate improvements.
Creating a direction and strategy for IT requires the input of every area of the business. Sometimes companies provide little in the way of business strategic direction so IT is left to its own devices to figure out what solutions to provide. In those cases, the IT leader must be proactive and work with each department head to identify the most critical areas requiring IT support. Guessing is not an option and building an IT Strategy and Vision without concrete direction from the business is a recipe for disaster.
Ability to Execute
While the vision sets the path for IT, the ability to put that plan into action requires a team of skilled practitioners with a varied set of skills. These skills and the processes necessary to ensure they are focused properly can reside inside as well as outside the organization. Leveraging the expertise of third-party providers is becoming a more attractive option as IT leaders struggle to find and hold onto top talent. Regardless of where the resources come from, it is incumbent on the IT leader to ensure that they are being marshalled effectively, using the right tools, methods and processes. Execution depends on a senior leader enabling the team and making sure that everyone understands the goal and timeline. It also means clearing the path and dealing with the problems that arise while simultaneously keeping people accountable.
Talent Acquisition and Management
In today’s IT world, talent acquisition and management are critical success factors. Successful IT organizations must develop strong processes to hire and develop their people, in ways not previously considered. Work from home, while essential today, has always had a place with IT professionals. Ensuring people can work in conditions best suited for them individually while maintaining a sense of team and project urgency is perhaps the most important job of the IT leader. In today’s highly specialized technology world, the only way to assemble the most effective team is by creating an atmosphere that stimulates and energizes team members and allows them the opportunity to bring out their best skills and talents. The IT leader who can do that will be a winner.