Organizations that depend on IT need good technology management. That’s obvious. What is not as obvious (except to good technology managers) is that good technology management is never enough. Unless you’ve got executives who understand the strategic challenges and opportunities of this technology and how to leverage it to meet their business objectives, your organization will always take a back seat to those organizations whose management actively accept as their responsibility the task of creating new business value from IT.
There is still a management culture out there that looks at IT as simply one among many necessary physical resources such as buildings, lighting, and telephones. Members of this management culture are not anti-technology. Give them a good business case (and tell them that their competition is already in the queue) and they will buy a prepackaged, well-documented call centre solution or ERP module, if they’ve got the money. They understand business process improvement as well as anyone but their perspective on the value that IT can deliver is usually circumscribed by a mixture of prudence, ignorance and fear.
These managers will accept change in bite-sized, business-process-by-business-process bits. But the process has got to be shrink-wrapped and on the shelf for a year or two before they’ll got for it. As a consequence, their organization loses on both ends of the IT spectrum.
First off, none of the quirky, proprietary stuff that ends up five years later shrink-wrapped and on the shelf gets created in these cultures. These outfits will never gain a tactical competitive edge with their IT because they will not nurture the kind of atmosphere in which innovations in IT-based business value can get started. Innovations like telework, automated sales or service delivery, or web-based customer management are not going to be created here.
On the other end of the spectrum, management in these organizations generally will not use IT as a platform from which to rethink the fundamentals of their business. So there isn’t going to be any strategic heavy breathing either. Looking at their revenue streams as different IT-based business models and exploring how technological integration and new (say IP-based) technologies might support a radically efficient reshaping of the models and the organization itself is simply not on.
Many technology managers deal on a daily basis with members of this club. And it speaks to their professionalism and self-discipline that there are so few deaths by misadventure among their senior management. But what is an IT executive to do to bring their management culture out of the Jurassic Age?
FINDING THE VALUE PROPOSITION
There are no simple fixes of course, but I can tell you how to begin. The trick is to find out what the fundamental values of the organization are and to play to these in crafting a change strategy. For example, is the overarching value in your company tied to the quality of the goods it produces? Is it the way it treats its customers? Is it aggressive growth? Doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, that’s what you’ve got to work with.
Once you’ve locked on to the value that your organization uses more than any other to define itself, go out and find (or build, if you’re really creative) an IT-based business innovation that exemplifies that value. It could be a new search engine that will work over your customer base to reveal all sorts of new prospects; it could be a new way of using your e-mail as a base for a knowledge management initiative. Doesn’t matter.
What matters is how you introduce the innovation into your organization. Remember, you don’t want this to be a one-shot deal. You want to change your organization’s management culture. So the first step is to make sure that everything you say about the IT innovation is associated with the company value it is supposed to promote. What you’re selling to senior management is the value, not the technology.
The specific value in question will also point to the champion you’ll want to corral to front the work in the executive committee. If the innovation you’re trying to introduce will promote the enhancement of employee training, go for the VP of HR. If it’s an innovation in manufacturing, call up the VP Manufacturing, and so on.
Your biggest challenge is sustainability. It’s not enough to kick-start a process of cultural change; you’ve got to follow through, and that is generally something beyond the time and energy of most technology managers. You’re going to have to build a track record of value-based IT innovation before management begins to routinely expect and support such tactical initiatives. You’ll need a really impressive track record of such successes before you can even think of getting management to spend a two-day retreat on the strategic side of the change business. Better get started soon.
Chuck Belford is president of Management Smarts Inc., a Nepean-based management consulting and training company. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com