Software // Enterprise Applications
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10/30/2003
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SmartAdvice: Strategic Value, Employee Retention

Here's what The Advisory Council recommends you look at in three key areas of business technology: proving IT's strategic value; what to do about SCO's lawsuit involving Linux; and IT employee retention

Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a new weekly column by The Advisory Council, a Westport, Conn.-based business-technology advisory service. Each week the column will spotlight TAC's advice on two or three issues of core interest to you, ranging from career advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. We encourage you to write to TAC and request answers to pressing business-technology issues. They will not solicit you unless asked, and will respond to you here or directly via E-mail at smartadvice@tacadvisory.com.

Topic A: Management continues to press us regarding the true value that IT generates for the company, and whether we still think of ourselves as strategic contributors.

Our Advice: For IT to be seen as valuable to the company, your management peers must first perceive you as valuable. You may feel this is unfair; however, IT managers have been dealing with this phenomenon for years. The typical IT organization spends most of its time satisfying demand and very little time on relationship building. But keeping your head down and just doing a great job for your department or company, unfortunately, isn't enough.

To contribute value, you need to succeed in two worlds: 1) the objective reality of hard IT accomplishments, and 2) the subjective light in which you and your accomplishments are seen.

Here is a 5-step plan to make both happen:

  1. Engage the business in a strategic dialogue.
  2. Set out a clear IT mission that provides the organization with a competitive advantage.
  3. Aim as high in the C-suite as you can in gaining champions.
  4. Build a strategic model that cascades down to the business units.
  5. Implement a system to measure and publish your success.

1. Engage the business in a strategic dialogue.
Your organization's perceived value will be in direct relation to how completely it fulfills your customers' needs, and you can only do this by finding out what those needs really are. This means engagement, dialogue, questioning, digging, and discussion of the business issues that demand to be resolved.

And don't do it all yourself. Ask that your staff talk to people outside their department every day and challenge them to give you the names of the persons and what they learned. Bring management into your department meetings to present their business area issues and IT concerns.

All this is essential to gain an understanding of your business: its market, products, and competition. I used to ask my team, Who's our largest customer? What's our most profitable product? Who's our biggest competitor? What issues does our company face today? I also insisted that we tie in everything we did to one of three areas: products, customers, or competitors. This further insured an alignment with the business as well as a broader perspective for my staff.

2. Set out a clear IT mission that provides the organization with a competitive advantage.
Ideally, you want to co-plan with the business. Aim to be part of its business model, not just a service department. Co-develop a technology and business vision and define business information flow needs and priorities.

Have someone from IT involved with the planning processes of each major organization. This person should sit in on all their sessions, and not just to listen, but to offer ideas, as well as ways that the organization might take advantage of IT's existing functionality. In addition, you can help your customers create a wish list of projects that may then become part of your IT plan. Work with them to identify the project's measurable business benefits, as well as its sponsor. And let them partner with you to get it funded.

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