Making The Role of IT in Your Organization More Strategic

by Rik Nemanick, Ph.D.

I was recently having lunch with a friend who works for XIOLINK who was telling me about how companies like hers (that provides managed hosting, cloud computing solutions, etc.) were enabling their customers to transform the role of internal IT in their companies. By moving a lot of their data and applications to “the cloud,” an organization’s internal IT team can shift their focus away from putting out fires and constantly managing server hardware to adding value to the core business such as application development or implementing a new ordering system. In other words, they will have more time to be “strategic.”

From my experience, becoming “more strategic” is much easier said than done. Many companies and business units have declared that they were “strategic”, more focused on their “value proposition”, and have more “time to innovate” without articulating exactly what any of these things will mean. My partner and I worked with a company president a few years ago who used the term “value proposition” every chance he got. The trouble was, none of his direct reports knew what the company’s value proposition really was. He was frustrated that his new strategy wasn’t being realized and his staff was frustrated because they didn’t know what he wanted them to do.

If IT is going to become more strategic, they should approach it like any organizational transformation. I have outlined just a few of the steps below.

Articulate Your Strategy: If your organization decides to engage an IT As A Service (IAAS) company or moves forward with a  cloud computing solution to help create a core IT value proposition, what is that value proposition? What role will IT play in your business? Will you help internal customers source and evaluate third party solutions to meet their needs? Will you manage the linkages among disparate outsourced platforms so they work together seamlessly? What are the needs your customers and the organization have relative to technology and what role will you play in meeting these needs? The strategy needs to be articulated in such a way that everyone knows what “more strategic” really means.

Use Change Management Techniques: Just because you have a new strategy, don’t assume everyone in your organization is going to jump up and down when you roll it out. Many IT organizations use change management techniques when implementing major changes to systems that dramatically affect people’s jobs. Treat the change in strategy as any other implementation. Analyze your areas of support and resistance. Craft your communications to address the Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt that comes with any change. Make sure you spend time cascading the changes down the ranks so people know why the change is being made and how it affects them.

Teach Your Staff New Skills: When you make a significant change in strategy, you often are making choices to start doing some things and stop doing others. These shifts in focus will require new skill sets from your staff. If you strategy is to be more consultative with your internal customers, you will need to teach your staff some consulting skills. Failing to refocus their skills will doom your strategy as it will never get executed as designed.

IT has a chance to really transform itself and how it operates. CIOs who underestimate the complexity of this change will miss an opportunity to create a more strategic organization that can make technology a competitive advantage for their company.