Draper CIO: How new IT roles improve connection to the business 

If IT has become disconnected from the business, it may be time to rethink your org chart. Draper's CIO shares how his team forged a tighter business relationship using a new IT role
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Core Systems vs. Systems of Engagements CIO

When I joined Draper four years ago as CIO, the IT department was burdened by the deferred maintenance of people, processes, and technology. 

On the technology side, our infrastructure was aging. When that happens, the effects trickle down to your people—they’re not pushing the envelope by adopting new systems. Instead, they’re fixing technology with duct tape and bubble gum to keep it running. As a result, their skill sets slide.

It was also quite clear that we were disconnected from the business, which had grown frustrated with our inability to deliver on time and accurately. Those two aspects of running IT – our operations and program execution –demanded a hand-in-glove relationship with the business, which we just didn’t have. 

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This is a common story in IT organizations around the world. We certainly weren’t alone. Change has hit technology and business so fast, and we’re all taking different approaches to evolve. Here’s a look at some of the steps we’ve taken, and how we’re energizing our teams around life’s only constant: Change. 

Introducing the business relationship manager role

To better connect with the business, we developed a new role: the business relationship manager, which we launched last October. This role would act as the liaison between the business and IT to help us understand the needs of the business’s projects and programs so we could be ready with assets, whether from a computer, facilities, or security and accreditation perspective. 

Our business relationship managers needed to be mission-focused, professional, articulate, organized, and dedicated. They needed to have both the ability and personality to engage on a more regular basis with the business and build those bridges we needed.

I wanted them to have a lot of IT’s tribal knowledge.

These two positions were filled by senior members of my IT team who now wear dual hats – the business relationship manager and their original roles. It was important to me that we select these people from within IT and not the business because I wanted them to have a lot of IT’s tribal knowledge, including the processes and the systems we currently use.

First on tap when we launched these roles last October was looking at the portfolio of work IT was executing. We evaluated the projects to determine whether they were focused on supporting our business momentum or whether they were operational projects. Then we prioritized them, which helped us focus on program execution. 

Still – like any organization in the midst of change – we had skeptics and naysayers. Our team is split 50/50 with tenured staff and others who have been here only a few years. We still had to move forward and work to help others understand that we weren’t looking for perfection, we were looking for good, incremental improvement and progress.

There wasn’t a single strategy that helped get everyone on board; rather it was a mix of town hall meetings and drive-bys with my management team. There have been a lot of conversations about being comfortable with the uncomfortable and how change isn’t bad or threatening – it’s actually a positive learning experience.

How it changed our organization

We noticed a shot of adrenaline penetrate the project management office.

When we launched these business relationship manager roles, we noticed a shot of adrenaline penetrate the project management office, in particular. These roles highlighted the need for that  project management oversight and the essential nature of ensuring that we were well-organized and had clarity around these programs and projects. It validated the PMO and boosted their sense of importance and prominence. 

And ultimately, we know a lot more about the business. Our relationships are stronger, refined, and they continue to grow.

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Our next steps

Phase One was about putting the right people and part of the right processes in place, while Phase Two is about continuing with the right processes, and eventually putting in the right technology around it to make it more successful. In Phase Two, we’re looking to get more efficient with our execution while calling out additional roles in support of the business. This phase will help us bring in new, dedicated people for those roles.

Embracing this change wasn’t necessary just for the organization, it was necessary for me, as the company’s CIO. Change is sometimes mundane – you get in the same headspace where the process becomes “wash, rinse, repeat.” But if you’re actually looking to change, you can’t continue with the same routine. 

During the past several years – and through this process – I’ve learned that I enjoy change and that I’m a change agent. It’s what energizes me. Seeing this as an opportunity for positive change with an outcome that will be positive for the company and my teams helped me champion that, as well. 

[ Are you leading through change? Read also: Teaching an elephant to dance - a free eBook on leading teams through the six stages of digital transformation. ]

Mike joined Draper as the Chief Information Officer in September 2015 to enable and support an overall corporate transformation. In his role as CIO, he strategically addressed the people, process and technology aspects of IT as it related to the overall corporate vision for change and innovation.