Getting in Sync

Getting in Sync

Given IT's impact, it would be natural to conclude that IT departments and the CIOs who run them are heroes. You would be wrong. Despite the dramatic and revolutionary changes implemented by IT, the IT department is still treated like a necessary evil in many companies

IT also documented any modifications in monthly project reports, which we provided to everyone in the company. As a result, no one could say that they were not informed of and involved with project changes. This took pressure off IT and assigned business users some of the responsibility for cost increases and delays.

Use Business Smarts

CIOs should speak like businesspeople. We should talk about trade-offs, backup plans and business strategy. We mustn't think that the toughest problems reside in the IT department. We must understand the cost structure of user departments and the pressures that users are under to achieve their goals.

IT must serve all of its masters in a company, not just the most powerful ones or the ones who shout the loudest. We must be aligned with corporate business needs, not with IT's needs. CIOs must play an active role here by making senior management aware of new technologies and how those advancements can save the company money or increase productivity.

I learned this lesson back in the early 1980s, when Ace was using a very costly cut-and-paste process for producing our dealer catalogue. We investigated what were then new laser printing technologies that could print both text and pictures. The system saved the company millions of dollars a year.

Demonstrate Results

It's hard to get recognition for your contributions when no one knows what they are. The post-implementation audit is one way to identify whether a system has achieved its promised results, but these reviews are seldom done in any formal way. As a result, advantages of the system become embedded in the cost structure of the user department and IT is never identified as the source of the improvements. Most IT departments don't care about this because they are on to the next project. Meanwhile, the user department is more than happy to take full credit for the benefits.

I found it difficult to get my company to conduct post-implementation audits. A major reason is that these can't be done just by IT. They depend on a collaboration between IT and the user department; the cost savings can be identified only by the users. The best way to achieve this is to make post-implementation audits a best practice within your company (and ensure that top management requires them). Making post-implementation reviews a function of a third-party organization such as internal audit helps to encourage all parties to participate.

When I have been able to do it, it has achieved the desired effect of proving the business case. For example, when Ace implemented a data warehousing system, our CEO demanded that the user departments quantify the long-term benefits before he approved the project. Once the system was implemented, he required the major users to report quarterly to the executive officers what benefits they were realizing from the system. By holding users accountable for the results, this approach ensures that future cost/benefit analyses will be more accurate.

If we can get users to understand that they must engage in pre-system development and post-implementation audits, we will ensure a higher degree of successful system delivery and accountability for results. Only when our colleagues know what to expect from us, when they understand what we do, and when they trust we understand their needs, will we begin to change many of the stereotypes that have followed us from the early days of computing.

Paul Ingevaldson was CIO of Ace Hardware until his retirement in 2004

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