Sounding board: Investing in non-IT skills

Sounding board: Investing in non-IT skills

How two IT leaders are meeting the need for more business-oriented IT staff

Stephanie Barros, director of information technology, Johnson & Johnson Medical

Stephanie Barros, director of information technology, Johnson & Johnson Medical

Stephanie Barros, director of information technology, Johnson & Johnson Medical

Recruit staff to connect the dots between IT and business

Over recent years, we have undergone a transformation in IT to streamline our processes, segment our capabilities and increase the value we deliver to the business. This transformation necessitates that the business-facing IT team must have non-IT skills to be effective.

From my perspective, are skills include an in-depth understanding of the market/industry that the business operates within; the ability to discern connections between technology, people and process to identify and capitalise on opportunities; and an almost singular focus on what adds value to the external customer.

With the segmentation of IT capability, the highly regarded and valued technical skills remain in the back office or are vendor provided services.

The need for a more business-oriented IT professional has emerged to bridge the gap between the back office/vendors and business. This ensures effective communication that results in solutions focused on maximising business value, not just being on time, on budget, or on specification.

As a consequence of the transformation and segmentation of IT capability, business-facing IT professionals in our organisation must have non-IT capability in addition to their technical skills across their teams. The best way to describe what non-IT skills can enhance is the ability to ‘connect the dots’.

This IT professional can view an entire business end-to-end with a different perspective, and create greater value for the business by understanding and challenging business requests, identifying process and productivity improvements, defining new approaches for competitive advantage and solutioning in a more radically innovative way.

Diversity is another dimension ensuring IT success. Diversity of culture, gender, age, thinking, background and experience all add to the richness of discussion and enable the dots to be connected in more creative ways.

Diversity is a central part of the culture across the Johnson & Johnson family of companies and translates directly into the makeup of our IT organisation. As companies strive towards a more customer-centric culture, attracting, developing and retaining a base of employees that reflects the diversity of their customers is essential to success.

Key to customer centricity is developing a clear understanding of the value created for the customer, and the proportion of this value actually captured by the customer. The challenge is to determine how each of these is perceived by the customer; features and benefits of the product or service alone do not define value.

To achieve an understanding of customer perception, a collaborative approach allowing for innovation with the customer is required. The non-IT skills of our IT professionals play an increasingly critical role when undertaking this journey with our customers.

Without these non-IT skills, our usefulness would be relegated to providers of technology rather than active participants in the formulation of value-adding business solutions.

George Lymbers, CIO, BaptistCare

Change the focus to relationship management

I have a large ICT team made up of people with skills in infrastructure, applications, records management, service management and other related disciplines. The biggest changes are occurring on the service management side, where my aim is to bring the ICT team much closer if not almost embedded with its clients: The various business owners across the organisation.

The aged care sector, including BaptistCare, is very much viewed as a back office-type operation from an IT perspective by its customers, which includes the business operations, residential, home care and care services groups. In the past, the ICT group was poles apart in terms of thinking about how technology helps the business run operations.

The strategy now is to mesh them in two ways. The first is to move certain functions like systems ownership into the business. For example, the finance team will own the system, and have a dedicated systems accountant to manage that.

The second strategy is to get my people out there talking to the staff and business, while bringing on people who are non-ICT into the group. This is a deliberate attempt to change the culture from a traditional back-office IT group to one focused on relationship management and business analysis.

To begin the change process, I’ve hired a business analyst who knows IT but can also work with the organisation to bridge the gap between our systems and the requirements of the client. That is working well and transforming that part of my team. But this is just the start.

We’ve got to start working more closely with the business to deliver solutions such as business intelligence, CRM, collaboration and mobility solutions. We also need to encourage the organisation to leverage existing infrastructure to keep costs to a minimum.

Injecting non-ICT people into ICT then into the business is really a sales and relationship building Exercise. We want to change the mindset of the business to see ICT as a partner, not a necessary hindrance. I will continue to look for business relationship people and analysts who can extract business requirements, and can then explain to the organisation what resources are available to help achieve its strategic goals.

We are working hard to create a more customer-centric culture. But it can be challenging, particularly when we are trying to be innovative. Non-IT people may not consider how their ideas are going to come to fruition from a technical perspective. On the flipside, if a solution architect comes up with an idea that a business analyst can understand, then the customer surely won’t understand it.

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This has been an issue in the past and still lingers, but with the move towards promoting better communication and collaboration between the ICT group and other parts of the business, this issues is abating.

ICT has to become more proactive and work with the business. If the business feels it can’t get what it wants from internal ICT, it will go external to satisfy these needs. Lines of business will buy or build something that doesn’t fit the architecture and ICT will be forced to support initiatives that are costly and difficult to accommodate.

Ultimately, embedding non-ICT staff into the business with a direct link back to their peers is the future for us. This will ultimately change the way we do IT and result in some significant cost savings, which have a real positive impact on the business.

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