IT must say goodbye to stand-alone technology decisions

IT must say goodbye to stand-alone technology decisions

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January 04, 2017
CIO Managing Your Boss

Over the last few years, IT has become increasingly involved in our business. And, in turn, our business has become more involved in technology decisions because our business partners are seeing new opportunities as a result of technology changes.

To a growing degree in our enterprise, technology is the business. And we aren’t alone. As we enter the Information Age, more and more enterprises are becoming information-driven, regardless of their industry. It's now a joint responsibility of IT and our partners elsewhere in the business to identify new opportunities for technology innovation, to evaluate those technologies, and to decide whether they address the business opportunities and solve the business problems we are facing.  

As we enter the Information Age, more and more enterprises are becoming information-driven, regardless of their industry.

In our organization, like many organizations, we see different patterns for engagement on technology solutions. In some situations, IT will find a new technology and recommend it to the appropriate business unit. In other situations, our business partners will identify a new technology and bring it to us. Regardless of the circumstances, we are striving for earlier collaboration. Our goal is to work together very early in the solution process to find the best combination of business process change and technology implementation. There are a few things we are doing to achieve that goal, and it starts with a strategic approach to evaluating the technology landscape.

Evaluating the big picture

We work closely with our R&D organization, in part because our products are rapidly evolving from on-premises offerings to cloud-based services. It is vital that we have strong engagement to manage security, process, systems, connectivity, and administration in an optimal fashion. We also work to understand our R&D innovations, such DevOps deployment and the data integration services being pioneered by our R&D team to ensure we are incorporating their best practices in our IT processes.

Outside our enterprise, but still highly relevant, are vendors. Increasingly, we’re buying and configuring cloud solutions rather than building custom software for our data centers. That deployment model is becoming the standard for many IT organizations. This change is driven both by business requirements for rapid deployment and interestingly, by the consumerization of IT. Employees and small teams can identify and implement their own solutions with a modest financial commitment. As a consequence, the IT organization must scan, monitor, and engage with both employees and vendors to ensure we are promoting the appropriate solutions for the enterprise.

We also observe what other IT organizations are doing as we consider new solutions. We engage with other software companies and develop an understanding of how they’re tackling similar sets of problems. Awareness of industry trends and current best practices are vital for modern IT organizations.  

Selecting solutions and vendors strategically

Continually evaluating the solutions available and the solutions that are emerging is important, but just as important is knowing what solutions are going to be relevant to our business. If we don’t do this, we could expend effort on an investment with limited business value. I recommend you start with both the big gaps in your business capabilities and your legacy roadblocks – it's often these areas that bring to light the greatest opportunities for moving your business forward. Build your short list of solutions to pursue based on knowledge within your organization, external consultants, industry experts, conversations with other IT organizations, and observations of leaders in your industry and elsewhere.
This proactive approach can help you avoid chasing the deluge of emails, LinkedIn invitations, and phone calls from vendors reaching out to IT organizations. You must have a strategic focus on vendor partners. Pick your strategic targets, both the business opportunities you’re trying to address, as well as the vendors you’re going to work with.

Working together with business partners

After investing your organization’s resources to thoughtfully and strategically select new technology solutions to pursue, it can be tempting to simply push forward with the decisions you've made. However, every technology decision needs to be made in partnership with the rest of your business. Ideally, you’re engaged and you understand the technology requirements based on the business strategies. You can then incorporate the business imperatives in your ongoing collaboration around the priorities in the technology portfolio.

Collaboration also means education and learning. Your entire IT organization needs to continually learn what your business is trying to accomplish, and your business partners typically need to learn more about how their business processes really work in a technology-driven world. There are very few stand-alone technology decisions, so the dialog needs to be a combination of “how do I engage the business to understand their requirements,” and “how do I synthesize the best solution based on all of the other things going on within both the business and the IT organization.”

Develop strong answers to those questions and you will be well on your way to leading a technology and business partnership in your organization.

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Lee Congdon is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Ellucian, the leading independent provider of higher education software, services and analytics. He is responsible for Ellucian’s information technology, including enabling the business through technology services, information technology strategy, delivering next generation solutions, process improvement and advanced data and analytics. 

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