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Software // Enterprise Applications
01:46 PM

SmartAdvice: For Early Adopters, It's All About Smart Execution

First decide if a new technology is critical to doing business, then test early so you have time to refine, The Advisory Council says. Also, strategies for effective process ownership.

Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers two questions of core interest to you, ranging from career advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to [email protected]

Question A: How should we decide between being an early adopter or late adopter of new technologies?

Our advice: One of the most important questions technologists must answer is whether or not it's inevitable that a given technology will be adopted. If adoption is inevitable, IT's focus must be on managing the "stress" of technology adoption so that business operations aren't adversely affected. Of course, it costs more to implement early, before best practices are well known. However, being a late adopter can have adverse business implications, too. For example, remember the disruption and excess costs suffered by companies that didn't complete their Year 2000 conversions until late in 1999.

The trick to characterizing adoption as inevitable or optional is to step outside the technology and look at the business. If technology adoption is tied to a legal requirement, customer requirement, or a critical cost factor in the business model, adoption in some form tends to be inevitable. If the technology doesn't pass this test, late adoption frequently is a better strategy.

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RFID Journal

When adopting a new technology is inevitable, then the smart execution strategy is piloting early so that decisions about full adoption are well informed. Remember, if you start small and early, there's usually time and resources available to refine, or even reverse, direction. For example, consumer-products companies and suppliers to the U.S. Department of Defense now face mandates to adopt RFID to replace bar-code labels. For these companies, nondisruptive pilot projects focused on understanding how packaging characteristics affect RFID tags and the degree to which operating procedures need to be changed are the smart strategy. Projects should be planned to coincide with seasonal windows when it's less disruptive to intrude into manufacturing and warehouse facilities.

Once you've accepted the challenge of stimulating action, try something unconventional. Stop trying to make every IT professional a "business person." Sure, the conventional wisdom is that IT professionals need business skills to ensure that IT projects create value. But "geeks" learn new technologies faster, and somebody has to make the technology works before it can be applied to a business problem. So, create a "center of excellence" that assures that the company maintains a core competency in new technology investigation and adoption. Skipping the consultant buzzwords, make sure there are a few strong technologists in a backroom somewhere, so that when you orchestrate an IT strategy change, the new technology works. And don't insist that technicians always deliver business value. Be satisfied if they create IT tools or services that your IT business professionals can employ to create business value later on.

IT professionals must articulate the nature of IT risk management to the business. Unless one has managed a project under tight deadlines, one doesn't understand the stress and potential impacts of late delivery. Many business professionals haven't had this experience, so the CIO needs to continuously educate them. Fortunately, conversations about risk management are "business conversations," so they should be viewed as an opportunity to show off the business acumen of IT.

--Walt DuLaney

Question B: How can we achieve effective process ownership within our IT organization?

Our advice: Traditional IT programs focus on functions such as payrolls or journals. More recently, because of the increasing capacity of IT through such applications as E-mail, its integration with business operations, and its transformation from a tool into something that sustains productivity and services, there has been a shift toward cross-cutting, cross-unit processes that transcend functions. These initiatives often deliver complex, versatile, multifeatured products. The IT office may lead these projects, but partnership and cooperation from program offices and others are essential.

Several strategies help achieve effective process ownership:

  • Make the CIO part of the executive team. Boards of Directors and CEOs should include CIOs on the executive team, and challenge them to understand the business, identify opportunities for progress through improved information management, lead business-process change and growth, and constantly increase customer satisfaction.
  • Ensure that the CIO has the right set of skills. Understanding and managing technology are no longer nearly enough. In the future, CIOs will also need leadership and management skills; understanding of the business' priorities and organizational culture; superb communication abilities; a knack for balancing traditional IT principles with improvisation to achieve results; and personal determination to keep renewing.

  • Related Links

    Return On Investment In Information Technology: A Guide For Managers

    Defining The CIO

    Managing IT As A Business, Mark Lutchen

  • Hire IT professionals with the "right stuff." Professionals need more than technical expertise. They need understanding of business operations and how IT meshes with other institutional capacities; excellent analytical skills; ability to deal with ambiguity and unclear or unarticulated needs; an understanding of process; and an intense customer focus.
  • Manage "from the heart." Process ownership is encouraged and supported by a management style that stresses an enterprise perspective, empowerment, team approaches, quality, pride in accomplishment, and rewards in the form of praise and recognition that highlight model behavior.
  • Appoint skilled project managers and coordinators. Process-based work requires the active contribution and support of IT specialists, program staff, managers, and others. Designate a project manager who can keep the project on track, consult with all involved parties, negotiate, solve problems, and assume responsibility for getting the work done satisfactorily, on time, and under budget.
  • Apply strategic approaches to carrying out IT projects. Stress the "three A's":
    Alignment – How does the project or initiative support and advance enterprise priorities?

    Analysis – What are the real dimensions of the problem, have reengineering and other non-IT solutions been considered, what are the alternatives, why is this one best?

    Advocacy – Build support as the work moves along and "sell" the final product on the grounds that it furthers the enterprise mission, meets consumer needs, and ensures operational effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Debrief and study successful models. Strategies for successful process ownership depend in part on the organizational culture, history, and setting. What worked well with process-focused IT projects that succeeded in your organization; what were the drawbacks to those were less successful?
  • --Bruce Dearstyne

    Walt DuLaney, TAC Thought Leader, has more than 30 years of experience developing IT strategies and new IT-management practices for Fortune 300 companies. He consults extensively on strategy-alignment, project-management, and performance-measurement methods to assure thsat strategic initiatives are delivered successfully and operating results are verifiably improved. He is the CEO of Adaptive RFID, a software services company.

    Bruce Dearstyne, TAC Expert, has more than 30 years of experience in government, universities, and association work. He is the author of five books, most recently "Effective Approaches For Managing Electronic Records And Archives," and approximately 75 articles on records and information management and strategic information management. His expertise is in leadership, development, and management of information programs; the role of CIO's; integration of information programs into enterprise operations; knowledge management; trends and developments in information management; and records management, including legal issues.

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