Over the many years of my working life in business, alongside my memberships of innumerable boards and executive committees, I have observed ﬁrst-hand the failed attempts of frustrated IT Managers to convince their senior management colleagues of the beneﬁts technology can bring to their business. This frequent inability of managers throughout the UK to capitalise on the potentially transforming effects of modern IT stretches back over many decades and can be laid at the feet of both the business and technology leaders in any organisation. In this paper I will discuss the issues and present a formula the progressive IT Manager can use for breaking the mould and raising the proﬁle of technology as a major enabler in the quest for continuous business performance improvement.
Embracing technology: the issues
In general I have observed two primary forces contributing to the failure of businesses to realise the beneﬁts of technology:
- A lack of interest and mistrust of technology by senior managers and board members (sometimes bordering on a phobia!).
- A lack of interest by the IT Manager in understanding and resolving business issues with an unhealthy focus on technology itself at the expense of everything else.
There is often an additional series of problems which can exacerbate the situation. The success of any technology strategy depends heavily on the existence of a well-deﬁned business strategy. It is a disturbingly common fact that many businesses do not have a clear strategy for how they intend to meet their stakeholders’ needs or build a robust business. This means that to survive, technology-focussed support functions have to be highly reactive rather than forward thinking and strategic. Technology functions do not work well in a reactive environment as they need creative forward planning and strategic management.
A major additional issue stems from the technology focus adopted by many IT specialists. This is invariably accompanied by the adoption of a jargon-fuelled vocabulary that is totally indecipherable to the average businessman and which presents a massive block to meaningful and essential communication.
Leveraging technology to advantage: the answers
To raise the understanding that Information Technology – when used correctly – is a critical element in achieving strategic and competitive advantage, the IT specialist needs to not only reposition themselves inside the organisation to bridge the divide between business and technology, but also develop or hone a series of new skills:
- The lack of appreciation the beneﬁts of technology can bring and the absence of a meaningful business strategy must be addressed directly by the IT Manager if any progress is to be made.
- A board agenda is very broad; to be credible amongst board members an IT Manager must be able to understand, relate and contribute meaningfully to all aspects of the company’s operations and strategic development.
- The IT Manager must demonstrate highly developed powers of presentation and persuasion when dealing with and educating senior colleagues in the beneﬁts of technology.
- All discussions with senior colleagues must be presented in plain English; there is no room for jargon.
- All IT projects must lead with a well-constructed and simply presented business case which highlights: the sources and magnitude of the savings, new revenues or the avoided impact following the elimination of any business risk that will follow from completion of a project.
- It will greatly help the IT Manager’s case if their IT colleagues demonstrate a high level of customer service (dropping the phrase ‘user’) and if the business beneﬁts focus permeates the whole organisation.
Developing business awareness: some useful tools
It is understandable that an IT Manager might consider the acquisition of strategic insight when working in an environment where a business strategy is either confused or notable by its absence. There are, however, several useful tools that are relatively easy to use but which will broadly clarify the strategic direction of any business and which will set the IT agenda very effectively. The ﬁrst of these is the Discipline Driver model of Treacy and Wiersema. The other is the Strategy Map concept developed by Kaplan and Norton which provides a vehicle for addressing the alignment of all intangible assets with the strategic needs of the business. Waterstons has developed the Kaplan and Norton approach to include the alignment of Information Technology with the strategic objectives of the organisation.
There has been a long history of businesses failing to capitalise on the beneﬁts of technology as a means of increasing business performance and competitiveness. To address this, the dynamics of the relationship between a company and information technology must change; the IT Manager must adopt a more business and strategically focussed approach when dealing with their board colleagues.
An IT Manager’s ability to communicate with and persuade senior colleagues of the beneﬁts of technology in plain business language is absolutely essential.
Finally, the IT Manager’s case will be greatly enhanced if their IT colleagues demonstrate an unwavering commitment to customer service.