Part of the Process

Part of the Process

Everyone knows you need to be in it to win it.

You know when you are getting old because you go to more and more funerals. They all have some common elements, of course, none of which really need to be stated here. However, there is one courtesy of technology that is worthy of mention - the shrill cry of a mobile phone at the most inopportune moment.

At a recent gathering for one of our IT industry's outstanding leaders, the 39-year NCR veteran and five start-up entrepreneur Tony Benson, no less than three individuals had to grapple frantically to find and turn off their phone over the course of an hour. The ugliest of these ugly moments came during a grieving daughter's flute solo. Can you imagine how agonizingly awful that was? In a room jammed with IT professionals from both the buy- and sell-side of the street, this does not say much for how we truly understand the impact of technology, or our ability to follow a simple process, such as showing respect by hitting the "off" button.

This bizarre, if distressing, little episode cuts to the very heart of IT priorities today, especially when it comes to applying process.

Successful IT professionals will find their ability to understand, explain and implement process to be the single greatest asset they can deliver to the business over the next few years. It will not be the operational foresight to buy a clutch of blade servers, negotiation of a PeopleSoft "get out of jail" clause, or the roll-out of a slew of e-mail synching PDA fashion statements that keep senior management off happy for the next few months.

Reinvigorating the importance of process will be a foundation of many future IT investments.

There is no value in simply investing in a bad process to make it go faster - it will still be a bad process. Unfortunately, this sort of thinking can be a difficult argument to prosecute with less imaginative colleagues who see IT's role as automating current work practices and thereby reducing the number of wage packets to fill. No one finds their technology Holy Grail by following such a simplistic path, as we are seeing increasingly today after a decade or more of this approach.

The trouble is, most CIOs and IT managers find it difficult to have conversations about the process of business with C-level peers. To be blunt, business managers as a genre can be dismissive of the intellect in the IT team, preferring to see technology professionals as functionaries, perhaps service providers, but not partners. That is not true for everyone, of course. CIOs such as Qantas's Fiona Balfour, who featured in a previous column, are among the elite who sit at the table of strategic direction and execution. Those who do not, at least in my experience, will sometimes lavish frustration on the inabilities of the clowns in the office who don't understand technology, rather than focus on their own inability to change their situation through consultation, communication and action.

Many CIOs, surveyed by various companies last year, appear to hold some lofty ambitions for the next few years - and process change will be their cornerstone of success. A common goal is to help create what is euphemistically described as a "single view" of their organization. Essentially, that means a one truth about performance in a jungle of personal perceptions and warring spreadsheets, each brandishing their own numerical reality and falsehoods.

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