Until a relatively few years ago, business did not think twice about handing off computing requirements to IT, perfectly content to leave all that specialized stuff to the experts. After all, IT was all about providing the tools to support the business, right? Getting what business required was just a matter of getting the techos to do their job — and really, other CXOs did not want to confront any of the bothersome details.
Rising levels of dissatisfaction with the value that technology was seen to be delivering the business put paid to all that. A clamour of complaints and growing frustration from CEOs, CFOs and business unit leaders — one survey found 75 percent of organizations did not think they were achieving commensurate value for their investments in technology — forced CIOs to get serious about learning the language and needs of the business.
How can you be sure the business technology organizations are up to the task?
1. Rotate the Generals
It takes real courage, but organizations wanting to keep their business IT operations in tiptop shape can go a long way by rotating their general managers every six months.
This helps in a few ways, says information technology and services consultant and contractor Chris Jones. First, since no GM will willingly leave a system or process in a mess lest the next GM find and report it, it provides a powerful incentive to stay on top of things. It also makes the GMs critically aware of what other parts of the organization are doing, and helps them identify the real movers and shakers.
And to deepen understanding of the business, put all your managers and staff on the front line for a day. This gets back- room people to understand what it is that the company they work for does, Jones says. "If people stay in the back room too long, they start thinking the sky is green and earthworms are the size of trucks — and some of their decisions have as much value to customers," he says.
"Once you have the managers focused on other pockets besides their own, and the staff can articulate what they do, the next thing is to get groups together and mix-n-match them. This can be training courses, picnics, social gatherings, whatever. There must be some external force joining people together who may not normally see each other. They have to introduce themselves, and then solve a problem by drawing from other skills and areas — interdisciplinary problem solving," Jones says.
2. Establish Good Data Governance
As well as cutting costs, companies must drive growth. That means exploiting quality information to achieve customer insight and good market knowledge, to say the least. But where once simply having business intelligence or enterprise data management solutions in place was enough to provide competitive advantage, standardization and the falling cost of entry have eroded this edge.
"More important than the technology is the alignment of information with value drivers and improvement levers," says Nathan Jones at Deloitte UK. "The information quality needs to be such that knowledge workers have the agility to react to market and internal pressures through informed decisions, not guesswork. This includes ensuring that performance against regulation is supported, minimizing the duplication and redundancy of data and maintaining and developing a clean data culture."
It is not good enough for an organization wanting good information quality to ensure information is merely fit for its original purpose; rather it must satisfy all the requirements thrown at it and support achievement of the business strategy.
This principle must be driven into the business at the highest levels, ensuring that strategy, organization and governance structures are in place to achieve ongoing improvement. It is pointless to examine the technology and process sides of the data quality problem until the business and technology organizations have a data governance plan, Deloitte's Jones says.
In many organizations the ownership of data and the quality of that data lies with the business, rather than the technology function. Understanding what is the responsibility of technology and what is the responsibility of the business is the key.
"In many cases, technology is seen as the solution to business problems, when in reality it is only a small, but essential, part. Success comes from picking the right value goal to address, and ensuring that business processes and organizations allow the goal to be achieved, then backing this up with technology," Jones says.
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