by Mark Blanke

Where does innovation belong in the IT department?

Sep 06, 2017
Business ContinuityCollaboration SoftwareCompliance

To be an innovator, IT needs to be engaged with the business, recommend solutions that help achieve business goals, and take the lead to ensure successful implementations and operations.

innovation idea
Credit: Thinkstock

I recently attended an MIT Sloan CIO Symposium on MIT’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s was an annual one-day event mostly attended by CIOs and academics to discuss current trends within the CIO’s realm of responsibility. There were panel discussions and a few presentations, many of which were focused on artificial intelligence, machine learning and digital transformation. 

These futuristic topics complement an MIT-hosted and -facilitated conference.  However, I wonder how many IT organizations are really in a position to use machine learning in their practices, or help their businesses enable the use of these technologies in their enterprises?

There is clearly a trend for leveraging machine learning (check out the article by my fellow IDG Contributor, Christine Heckart, Machine Learning: Are we there yet?). And digital transformation is a common discussion (read this great article by another IDG author, Ben Kepes, Digital transformation progress. Or not…). But these topics lend to one point, “Where does innovation belong in the IT Department?”

A troubling and frequent trend I’ve witnessed involves technology decisions being made within the business units and not involving IT’s leadership.  A common example is with cloud applications. These solutions can be easy ordered and business leaders can authorize the purchase of new IT systems without involving the IT organization.  Some would take the position that this is a great way to give the business the ability to rapidly identify solutions to their challenges.  However, it does present a challenge for support and information integration.  Without understanding the new application’s ability to integrate with existing systems and an overall systems architecture, information silos are easily created.  Also, one business unit’s selection of an application may conflict with another business unit’s selection of a similar type of tool, eliminating cost and support efficiencies.  I have witnessed several business unit cleanups (usually after an acquisition) in which it was required to move everyone to a common ERP or CRM to save money and provide common corporate reporting and planning. This ends up becoming an expensive, complicated, and time-consuming project that most people would love to avoid.

But it begs the question, “Why is IT not being engaged?” 

Obviously, this differs from one company to the next.  Some companies have very mature IT organizations that are well interconnected with the business and its leadership to properly support their priorities.  However, too many IT organizations today are heads down with IT Operations or focused on the development of custom applications. 

Some of the reasons IT organizations are not seen as innovators include:

  • IT is lacking a true understanding of the business’s priorities
  • A poor Service Desk experience is tainting the whole IT organization’s reputation
  • There is a poor funding model for IT initiatives (IT’s claim they don’t have the budget)
  • IT does not have the skillsets or resources to support what the business is asking for
  • The IT Organization does not package its capabilities into well understood IT Services
  • Requests take too long to fulfill
  • What IT does is not clearly understood

IT organization’s need to rise to the challenge of becoming technology innovators.  If we look at the ITSM framework, this would be addressed by the Service Strategy Phase of the lifecycle and supported by processes such as Business Relationship Management, Service Portfolio Management, Financial Management for IT Services and Demand Management.

Also, enhanced governance would prevent many misalignment issues between IT and the business. Leveraging a process like Business Relationship Management ensures that IT is in sync with the business and demonstrates that IT is consistently working towards business goals through validation and revision of ever-changing priorities.  Also, there should be clear corporate-wide governance to adhere to certain IT architectural standards.

One approach for better engaging the business and demonstrating IT is an innovator, is for IT to create a Solutions Team that acts as a consultant to the business to help identify the solutions they need.  As the business sees the need for the use of technology, the business would engage the Solutions Team to help identify the technology needs and determine the best solution.  This approach drives collaboration, allows IT to use its expertise to identify the best solutions, and also puts IT in a solid position to ensure the solution meets architectural requirements and can be supported by the IT operations organization moving forward.

Some additional efforts the IT organization can take to improve its relationship with the business include:

  • Ensuring that requests are fulfilled in a responsive nature
  • Having an effective and pleasant Service Desk
  • Enabling self-service and on-line capabilities
  • Providing a Service Catalog of IT services described in business terms
  • Defining and agreeing to financial and performance metrics and ensuring these goals are met
  • Fostering productive bilateral communications

Remember, the purpose of IT is to support the business and the company strategy which is why the company is willing to invest in IT.  However, IT needs to engage in two-way Business to Business communications in which expectations are well defined and results are achieved together.

So, if you are working in IT, make sure you understand what is important to the business and ensure that priorities are set correctly.  Communications should be positive, focused around capabilities, frequent enough, but not burdensome.  To be an innovator, you have to be engaged with the business, recommend solutions that help achieve business goals, and take the lead to ensure a successful implementation and operations.