How to break the news that a significant IT transformation is in order

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CIO Digital Transformation 2

If you’re relatively new to a company’s IT group or a senior role within IT, how do you break the news to your CEO or Board of Directors when you discover that a significant IT transformation is in order, even if it’s on the order of multiple years or more from start to finish?

Here are a few tips that have worked well over my career:

1. People have to take their medicine. You’ll never get any credit for sugarcoating the truth in IT. It’s always a best practice to tell your board that this is where we’re at, or that it’s going to take this long. We’ve designed the process so that we go through the painful but necessary steps early and limit the spread of that pain to the business wherever possible.

2. Define a program with embedded phases/projects. Define and get buy-in to the overall program before embarking on specific projects. If you can’t get buy-in to the overall program then you won’t get buy-in for the component projects. The key is to get approval to move forward with the whole program – then, outline the roadmap of projects, which will be required to get you there. The metaphor I use in my head is ironing a shirt. If you go too quickly you’ll end up with a bunch of wrinkles (a mess!). If you slow down and take it in logical stages, you’ll end up finishing faster – and have a nice looking shirt.

3. Never deliver a negative without a positive. If I tell my board that we are going to undergo a significant change within a system or business area, I always stress the value of the benefits we will get on the other side. And that it comes with an ongoing, repeatable process to maintain it in the future – so, we won’t have to go through the pain again.

4. Present the process. With any major upgrade, how each employee uses your system will be different. Therefore, there will be a significant change management component that must be built in, and you have to clearly explain the process you’ll use for success up front – not as you go. Certainly, do not wait until the end.

5. Align your message with the business reality. If you build in the ability to throttle up or slow down your upgrades and/or implementations (in logical phases and projects), then you’ll always be able to move at the speed that the business can support. It’s a good message to send that if your business dips, you can pull back a little on spending but still make progress – albeit a bit slower. This is how a business leader acts, not just someone who runs the IT department.

So whether you’re upgrading your underwriting, claims, ERP, HR or trade management systems, lay out the honest truth, get buy-in to the entire program, and then show how each phase is going to drive more value to the business, how long it might take and what the journey looks like. Then, you will have those who will sign up for the mission both as willing passengers and more importantly, as drivers.

Brian Beams joined Pharmavite in June 2010 and is responsible for determining the strategic direction of the company’s IT solutions, infrastructure and technology operations, as well as the company’s customer and consumer-facing technologies.

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