How to build a culture of business learners in IT

How to build a culture of business learners in IT

Today's IT professionals need to be business consultants as much as technologists. Ellucian CIO Lee Congdon shares five steps his team used to make this transition

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A look inside the learning process

There are five steps that help learners move from a technology-based role to a technology business consultant role. You should start with one or two of your business partners and grow the number and scope of initiatives after making the early programs a success.

  • First, understand the business requirements and develop a partnership with the business organization. Meet with them continuously and listen to their challenges. Use this opportunity to develop engagement and relationship skills.
  • Second, understand their existing technology implementation, if any, then take a step back to see what the industry offers. What’s the best solution for your needs? Who are the strongest vendors? Is a custom-built solution required? Use this opportunity to grow business, technology, and data architecture skills.
  • Align this investigation with the budget cycle and funding available for the project. What can be done and when? Can a pilot project be used to justify funding? What are the anticipated business benefits in revenue growth, cost reduction, and risk mitigation? Use this opportunity to develop financial skills.
  • Align the planned investments across functional units. It is rare that an organization has the resources to work on every current project request, so building a portfolio of planned solutions, prioritizing across business units, and having a multi-year roadmap is important. This is an opportunity to develop architecture, influence, and political skills.
  • Launch the implementation phase. Questions to ask include: What are the required business process changes? How do we roll the solution out to the users? How do we ensure they adopt it? How do we measure adoption and verify that we’re responding to ongoing changes of the business? How do we sustain the solution over time? Use this phase to grow project management, communications, and change management skills.

Next, determine where you want to be with this platform in three or five years. Is it one you want to stick with? Or do you think you will need to make a platform change? If so, now is the time to adjust the longer-term plan noted above. This is an opportunity to develop business strategy and financial planning skills.

Finally, the team starts influencing and prioritizing for the next program or project. As it becomes clear which projects will be prioritized in the following cycle, planning and selling the benefits of those projects commences. Use this opportunity to change existing roles or to bring in some new people to continue developing the team.

Common challenges you'll likely face

Be aware that two challenges or barriers can get in the way of building a culture of learners. The first is prioritization. You must meet regularly with your business partners to talk through collective priorities across the organization. When you meet, you also must be consistent in your messaging about technical and business priorities, otherwise prioritization becomes difficult and teams can become consumed in tactical efforts.

The other challenge is change leadership. You need to get the business to agree and support the process changes or the people changes that are required to implement new solutions. This can sometimes be daunting – particularly when the solutions being considered are cross-functional platforms that affect different organizations, each with their own short-term priorities.

In the end, building a culture of learners is essential to navigating these challenges. Each implementation can then have a bigger impact and be more efficient in generating positive outcomes. A cadre of highly skilled technology business consultants will position you well for your next set of business successes.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

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