5 Steps to transform IT from Order-taker To Business Partner: Part 2

Way back in September, I promised a series of blogs addressing this subject. I had high hopes of delivering a post a week for five weeks on the topic. Needless to say . . . life interjected!

So here, a little later than planned, is the second post in the series.

Step 1 - Change where you work 

If I had a thousand bucks for each time I’ve heard someone in technology management say “IT and the business,” I’d have retired long ago. And it’s not just something we hear in technology circles either. The plain truth is technology professionals have been using isolationist language for decades. I say isolationist because any time we refer to "IT and the business” as if they were two different entities, we are creating an artificial divide. As a department of the business, IT is very much part of “the business.”
 
When technology leaders create this divide between the technology group and the rest of the business, it separates their actions from the purpose of the business. Technology professionals start to see themselves as some sort of technology service provider to the business. But the truth is that the technology team should be integral to delivering value to the customer. If “the business” wanted a technology service provider, the leadership team would outsource IT. Unfortunately, one consequence of managing IT like a vendor is that it becomes much easier for the leadership team to make that outsourcing decision.
 
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Dawn Of A New Digital Reality

FitbitWe’re at the dawn of a new industrial revolution. And just as the steam engine and the spinning jenny transformed the world in the first industrial revolution, the new technology of this new industrial revolution will transform our world as we know it.

The seeds of revolution are all around us: More compute power now resides in each of our pockets than in the supercomputers of the eighties; we are rapidly approaching a point where each person on the planet is interconnected through a web of digital channels; billions of devices are capable of instantly uploading data about the device and its environment as an the internet of things; highly automated manufacturing plants will soon intelligently assemble custom products; and instant video communications now take place regularly around the world. All of these changes are already here. 

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Technology + Philanthropy = A Masterclass In Technology Marketing At Dreamforce 2013

What Benioff and his team at Salesforce do better than every other tech company at a customer conference is make an emotional connection between the audience and the brand.

The opening 45 minutes of Dreamforce 2013, the annual gathering of Salesforce.com (SFDC) customers and industry influencers, focused less on the product and much more on how SFDC is helping transform the lives of those most in need of help. In many respects, this looked and felt more like the opening of a fundraising event than a software conference — I say "felt" because the message was designed to connect with feelings. The visuals and stories all help people connect to the Salesforce message at a deeply emotional level. The implication: By partnering with SFDC, you really do help change the world. This was a masterclass in marketing and leveraging corporate philanthropy
 
Too many companies are so focused on their own growth that they fail to connect to something that really matters in the world: making a difference in the lives of people less fortunate than ourselves. By reinforcing this connection for both customers and employees, Benioff successfully gives a deeper meaning to the hours employees will spend to do their job slightly better each day. It's no wonder that SFDC is one of the most admired companies and a top place to work.
 

Chief Digital Officer: Fad or Future?

Over the past nine months I've been interviewing chief digital officers and senior digital leaders across a variety of industries to gain insight into the emerging role of digital leadership. My colleague Martin Gill and I wanted to discover why firms hire chief digital officers and what they are responsible for — more importantly I was looking to discover what CEOs should be doing to set up their businesses for success in a digital world.

The initial findings from this research are published in "Chief Digital Officer: Fad or Future" (fee for non-clients).
 
One aspect of the research I'd like to highlight here is the need to think of digital as more than simply a bolt-on to your business. To create a digital business able to compete in the age of the customer, we need to think of building out a digital business ecosystem. I know what you're thinking — "not another ecosystem" — and yes, it's a very overused term, especially by consultants and analysts. But I simply can't think of a better term to describe the interconnected and codependent relationships needed in a fully digitized business (see diagram).
Firms need to develop a digital ecosystem
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Business Technology Strategy Template

Here’s a riddle: What is it that almost every organization believes it needs, many organizations have, and few organizations use? The answer is an IT strategy.

CEOs and CFOs task new CIOs and old CIOs alike with developing an IT strategy. But despite the millions of dollars, pounds, euros, and yen spent on creating IT strategy every year, few of these strategies will be put to effective use. The IT strategy is the foundation upon which CIOs communicate the value of IT across the enterprise. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, only 18% of organizations have IT teams that communicate the value of IT effectively.

And one of the most common questions I receive from clients since publishing the Business Technology Strategic Planning Playbook is "do you have a plan template we can use?" At last I can answer, "yes - here it is!"
 
What differentiates a good business technology strategy?
 
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5 Steps to transform IT from order-taker to business partner

Let's face it, IT often suffers from a bad reputation. And in many cases it's well deserved. Over the years many IT leaders attempted to change IT's reputation by empowering other departments to dictate what IT should be doing — and in the process they became order-takers. And the portfolio of projects from well-meaning business leaders mushroomed. To cope with the overwhelming demand, IT established rigorous process around governance, forming committees with the power to determine what IT works on. And almost inevitably, many of these committees are bogged down by politics — meaning IT is not always working on the right things — and at the same time slowing down the whole pace of change. No wonder then that many people across the business spectrum view their own IT group as a slow, unresponsive impediment to getting things done. 

But CIOs the world over are actively engaged with their leadership teams in changing IT's reputation. The goal for these CIOs is to shift IT from order-taker to business-partner, helping shape future business strategy and using technology to increase the value their organization brings to the end customers of the business.
 
This transition is not easy. Nor is it guaranteed to work. Sometimes an IT organization's employees are simply unwilling or unable to embrace the change. Sometimes the reputation of IT is so sullied that nothing short of a cold-reboot will work (organizations going down this route will start by outsourcing all of IT, then they gradually hire back key skills needed to derive more effective business outcomes).
 
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The #1 Cause Of Organizational Dysfunction

At some level, I see dysfunction in almost every client I work with. This isn't something new. There probably isn't an organization on the planet without some level of dysfunction. Perhaps a degree of dysfunction is acceptable or even desirable. But eventually organizational dysfunction reaches a point where it begins to impede the ability of the enterprise to function. One area where this appears to occur with great frequency is between IT and the rest of the business. In far too many organizations IT is seen as out of alignment with the business, or worse, as an impediment to business units. So why is this?

It's been my opinion for some time now that there is a root cause for almost all the dysfunction in organizations. The cause is metrics. Specifically, the metrics we use to measure employee performance. Sometimes we suffer from the unintended consequences of what appear to be sound metrics.

Take for example a conversation I recently had with a client in marketing with responsibility for e-commerce. He wanted to gain a better understanding of IT because it appeared to him they were making bad decisions. On investigation it turned out "IT" had taken the website offline in the middle of the fading day, much to the consternation of the e-commerce team. To understand why IT might do this you need to understand metrics. It turns out the help desk had received a call about a problem with SAP. In order to fix the problem with SAP, the database technician decided the fastest repair would require restarting SAP. Unfortunately the website was tied to SAP so when it went down, so too did the website. Had the help desk and the database engineer not been measured on how long it takes to repair a problem, they may have made a different decision.

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Why Customer Experience Will Become The #1 CIO Priority

Customer experience isn’t typically at the top of the CIO’s priority list but it was certainly front and center in New York this week.

I believe things are about to change for CIOs. In the new era of always-connected consumers – what Forrester calls The Age Of The Customer – customer experience is so critical that I predict it will become the #1 priority for CIOs. In part because unhappy customers have the power to alter the course of any organization, as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings discovered in 2011, when his US customers forced him into an about-turn on his strategy to split movies-by-mail from online streaming.

But investing in customer experience is tricky because it’s often seen as an abstract thing with little tangible ROI. Companies like USAA, a US insurance company with a strategic focus on customer experience, have spent years re-shaping their entire organizations to think from the outside-in, focusing on the end customer. USAA did this because they believed it was the right thing to do, not because of some compelling business case.

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CX And An Ex-CIO

This week's Customer Experience Forum was far more than just an event for customer experience (CX) professionals. It was an event for any business leader who truly cares about customers. And this includes many CIOs.

Attendees gather at the 2013 NYC Forrester CX Forum

As far as I'm concerned, the best CX presentation by a guest speaker was given this morning by a former CIO, Paul Heller. Paul is now Managing Director of the Retail Investor Group at Vanguard. While his session was energetic and full of humor, it also conveyed his message about the business of delighting clients very clearly. Paul suggests we all need to get in touch with the why, how and who of our business: 

  • Why are customers doing what they do? To answer this question we really need to get to know the reasons for customers doing business with us. Vanguard took the time to ask their customers why they invest and they discovered people want to have more time to do the things they enjoy, they want less stress and to avoid being bored. Trust me, it's way funnier the way Paul describes it.
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How To Retain Your Most Creative Employees

There have already been plenty of articles written on the importance of creativity in the workforce. Assuming you buy into the importance of attracting creative types to your team, you will have an understanding of what to look for in hiring creative people. And then you will face the challenge of keeping these people on your team. I see this as a challenge because I don't believe our typical individual performance metrics are well suited to measuring creative individuals. 
 
Consider some of the common metrics used to assess individual employee performance: on-time task completion; task management; completion of specific goals; project management — all of these measures are heavily geared toward favoring individuals who have a natural ability to be well-organized, methodical and goal-oriented. Perhaps this describes your ideal employee.
 
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