At Covanta we have long moved past the “Is IT aligned with the business?” argument. IT really is just part of the business. We are involved in every aspect of the company.
We have very close partnerships with the business leaders. For example, we have IT business relationship managers embedded in our business function staff meetings. This is a critical aspect for me because that's how our company generates competitive advantage. As a result, we no longer encounter situations where we receive requests asking whether or not IT can build a given business function feels they need. That's because we are in the same meetings they are when business upgrades and strategic decisions are being considered and discussed, weighing in from the start with feedback that enables us to advise and counsel based on our prediction of where the business.
Of course, we had to work hard to get there.
Embedded IT: A Day One activity
For me, it helped to spend 14 years at Johnson & Johnson prior to my current role. I had other business relationship functions as part of J&J’s shared services organization. At J&J, where approximately 200 separate companies operate under one overall brand, you have to be embedded to know what's happening. I found that idea solid and foundational and therefore leveraged it here at Covanta.
The sooner you can embed IT into the business, the better. Otherwise you're not in the loop and you don't know what's going on. From an IT perspective, business meetings are where you hear about new opportunities. A business may be only starting to figure out a challenge. It's not a planned thing. And that's exactly why IT needs to be able to hear the conversations and appreciate the complexity of what's going on. It’s not a one-time meeting, either. It's meeting after meeting when you see the trends and progress, and the issues that arise, and then have the ability to say to yourself, “Hey, I know about all these IT things going on and I see a bridge and a connection. I know where we can leverage these things that these three other departments are dealing with so we can build one solution to fix it all.”
When leveraged correctly, IT can enjoy a unique perspective that spans the organization. Unless you're sitting with a bird's-eye view across the organization, you're missing the advantage of applying a holistic approach to managing potential challenges.
Strategic IT: The Operational Cost of Entry
All too often I hear people talking about all the strategic stuff they do, then you hear that their email system went down again. It is unlikely that IT will be viewed as a true strategic player in that particular organization. Unless and until you have earned the necessary credibility, anyone from the business can rightly say, “Why would I want someone from IT sitting in my staff meeting when they can’t get email to work?”
Once you earn the credibility to have a seat at the table, you can start connecting the dots and providing real value to the business. You can say, “We already have a solution to this thing that’s negatively impacting another part of the company.” It also becomes a lot easier to say, “Forget about all the stuff I'm keeping running; here are the things we can do to move the company forward.” And there are two aspects to that: one is supporting different growth initiatives, but another is driving them.
At Covanta, IT looks for opportunities to generate revenue rather than just supporting the generation of revenue. So being strategic, ultimately, is about turning IT into a revenue-generating capability.
Stuart Kippelman is the Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer of Covanta, a world leader in waste-to-energy and renewable energy projects. He is responsible for the global vision, strategy and operations of Covanta's IT organization.