Tuesday, 23 February 2016 07:55

IT as a Strategic Partner

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I’ve been reading about Data Warehouses and Business Intelligence – good reading – but noticed a concept that has been around since the late 1970’s, regarding the relationship between IT and business, that I believe needs to change.

IT has been positioned to support business; that business is their customer.  When IT views business as their customer, they work hard to support them, which is good.  The reverse, however, is a problem.  When the “business units” view IT as a support function they endure their presence.  Today, with the growth of Big Data, business intelligence, e-commerce, etc., IT needs to be a strategic partner

A Strategic Partner

Making a shift to view IT as a strategic partner with “business units” is crucial.  Using Big Data effectively and developing useful business intelligence requires both the business involvement – they know their requirements, and technology involvement – they know how to deliver.  But, it’s more than that.  New technology and new uses of data emerge daily.  When IT waits for the business to come to them with a need, business is generally in a reactive mode.  When companies strategically tie business and IT as partners they have an advantage as IT can approach business with new ideas, new uses of technology and data; and business can come to IT with ideas for how to use data and technology, enabling them to be more proactive.  This enables businesses to be more cutting-edge, and more of a leader in their industry rather than reacting to what others have done.  Having better business intelligence about customers, services, products, and the market can provide a company with many advantages.

“How to” make this happen

One of the symptoms of the server/customer relationship is that when IT has a project, it sends its business analysts, data analysts, etc. to individually “interview” the business users for solutions.  They struggle to get access to and time to interview – usually, the business users are busy with daily work and leave it to IT to come up with the solution and present it to them.  Instead of individual interviews, all of the key stakeholders need to be actively engaged – collectively as a team

The most effective way to do this is through a structured facilitated process.  A structured facilitated process not only impacts the busy stakeholders far less than individual interviews, but it also produces a high-value product/solution and is so productive that the stakeholders will take time out to participate.  Structured facilitated processes are used for strategic planning, problem-solving, decision-making, requirements elicitation, design, etc., and require participation from all stakeholders – including IT. 



Whenever a project is undertaken (whether technical or non-technical), using a structured facilitated process for continuous engagement and improvement makes more sense – for example, a 3-day structured facilitated workshop to develop requirements replaces 6 to 8 weeks of individual interviewing, saving time and expense and has the buy-in from all stakeholders.  In addition, it has been proven that the results from structured facilitated workshops are of higher quality and saves time and expense of correcting defects/re-work after the fact. 

Organizationally

IT needs to be on equal footing, organizationally, with every department within a company.  When it isn’t (many companies still have IT reporting to the finance department), it is viewed as support rather than strategic. 

Related Article: Five Key Soft Skills for IT Business Analysts

Organizationally, training all data analysts, business analysts, project managers, etc., in effective structured facilitation skills helps create an environment of collaboration to meet project needs and consensus-based solutions.  That helps ensure business engagement and improves quality and productivity. 

Note: Both quality and productivity have been measured at numerous companies, and they average 100% improvement. 

So…

IT is a strategic partner for business.  IT and business units within a company need to be on equal footing and need to work together strategically.  Both need to be fully engaged in projects so that they can take advantage of both business and technical knowledge.  The best way for this to happen, while ensuring minimal impact on business, is through the use of a structured facilitated process.  

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Gary Rush

Gary Rush, IAF CPF, Founder and President of MGR Consulting, Inc., attended the U.S. Naval Academy and is a former Chair of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF). He is a recognized leader in the field of Structured Facilitation and Facilitator training, managing projects since 1980, facilitating since 1983, and providing Facilitator training since 1985; and continues to be the leading edge in the industry by continuing as a practicing Facilitator.

As a Facilitator Trainer, he teaches FoCuSeDTM. He teaches specific "how to" with an understanding of the "why" to perform as an effective Facilitator; he provides detailed people and process tools, enhances his training through effective learning activities, and, as an IAF CPF Assessor, he covers the IAF Core Facilitator Competencies and what students need to do to achieve them. As a Facilitator, he improves client business performance through effective application of exceptional facilitation processes and he is highly skilled at engaging participants and guiding them to consensus.

Gary has written numerous “how to” books, including the FoCuSeDTM Facilitator Guide – a comprehensive reference manual sharing his step-by-step process so that students can replicate his practices. His alumni often tell us how much Gary has changed their lives. Gary can be reached at grush@mgrconsulting.com

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