"For IT departments to contribute to revenue growth, they have to understand and share in the mission of the company," says Forrester's Orlov. "It's important to introduce processes to help the IT organization understand the mission through sending them out into the business and making sure businesspeople know IT."
At Discover, IT and business are joined at the hip. But that's not the case everywhere. At Foley & Lardner, CIO Douglas Caddell and his team had to sell management on the idea of IT as a strategic partner that could bring new revenue into the $US610 million corporate law firm.
To do that he went straight to the clients to find out what technologies the firm could offer to support their businesses. After attending countless conferences and forums to talk to corporate general counsel, he figured it out. "GCs [general counsels] are at the bottom of the IT food chain in their corporations. They're looking for anything that might make their life better," says Caddell. "If a law firm can provide them tools that will make their jobs easier, that goes a long way toward creating a tighter bond with them and getting more business."
Caddell began developing a suite of Web-based technologies tailored to the needs of the law firm's clients, such as a case management system, litigation tools and a best practices repository. "I had an idea of what I thought the customers were looking for," he says. "I didn't do it in a vacuum, but I didn't ask for permission either."
Called Foley:ClientSuite, the system was rolled out in 2003 to 150 of Foley's most IT-savvy lawyers to offer as a free incentive to grow business with existing clients. It worked: The system helped the firm expand its business with Bank of America. "Our chairman, Ralf-Reinhard Boer, said it's what got him in the door down in North Carolina [at Bank of America]," says Caddell. "Senior leadership now recognizes it as a true competitive advantage for increasing business value."
Though he isn't able to quantify the amount of business that can be attributed solely to the introduction of ClientSuite, today half of Foley's attorneys and 450 clients use the system.
Caddell has since hired a full-time technology consultant and salesperson to engage internal users and external customers in further system development. "She works with the lawyers to help the customers understand the value of the technology and how they might be able to implement it," he says. "She finds out what will make it work better for them."
The IT department is on its third version of ClientSuite, which offers such enhancements as a more robust searching function, advanced security and integration with MS Outlook. And IT has become a top-line partner at the firm. "This increased our credibility," says Caddell. "We're not just an expense to minimize. We're an investment."
The Need for Speed
The benefit of a revenue-enabling project can be fleeting - what creates competitive advantage and new business growth today can be the cost of doing business tomorrow. At Foley & Lardner, Caddell knew it was only a matter of time before rival firms would develop systems similar to ClientSuite. To keep its advantage, IT would have to quickly develop and roll out enhancements.
Doing so meant creating an internal development staff to get the technology built and updated as fast as possible. Caddell employs seven developers - a lot for a law firm. Overall, his IT department grew 14 percent over the past three years, and Caddell has realigned his resources around client-facing technologies and Web development. "It's a whole new level of challenge and responsibility. If it doesn't work, it's going to be a revenue disabler. And that's not what you want," he says.
The IT team was able to develop and roll out each version of ClientSuite in less than six months. "It's been fairly robust and rapid development. But we don't impose any artificial deadlines," says Caddell. "You have to be willing to take a risk, but don't be risky."
Discover's Offereins says there's often more urgency around IT projects that enable revenue. And there's no shortage of people who want to work on such projects. "Revenue generation has a naturally positive, expansive aspect to it. People are more enthusiastic about it, particularly people in the technology department," she says. But staffing such projects properly is important.
The shared network with China UnionPay, for example, needed to deploy quickly to leapfrog the competition and prepare for the increase in US-China travel that will accompany the Beijing Olympic games in 2008. It also involved a great deal of complexity, from technology standards to time zones. Offereins and her technology management team needed to decide quickly who was most qualified to lead and staff the project. To speed staffing ramp-up, she relies on a core group of people whose skill sets make them ideal for complex, high-profile projects.
"You have to know your people and capabilities to quickly pull a team together to meet the demand when opportunities like this come along," Offereins explains. As a result, Discover was able to process the first successful China UnionPay transaction on its US network less than five months after the deal was inked.
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