A few months ago, I sat with fifteen directors in the Information Technology department and described a situation that, unbeknownst to them was a fictional story. I described a story about a recent encounter with a prominent business leader and customer of our IT department who selected a new software product for her business unit and who proceeded to negotiate a contract and implement the web-based software within the business unit without any involvement of our IT department. I then asked my directors to tell me how they felt and what they thought.
Their immediate feelings were hurt for not being consulted, worry for what damage could be done to the company, betrayal for not being ‘asked,’ and sadness for not being trusted. They thought this was against some company policy. They immediately jumped to what might have been missed. They questioned their own value and asked how this could happen.
Later on, they asked what can we can do better to scale with our customer demand, to be at the table for similar decisions, and how we can leverage the skillsets—business and technology to ensure we’re making the best decisions for the company.
With the new paradigms of Software as a Service, consumerism, convergence, and an increasingly technology-savvy IT customer, one might expect the relationship between the IT department and its customers to be a love fest with each party finally understanding one another; working together harmoniously; transforming and automating business and accomplishing great deeds.
Not so fast! Change and evolution of the working relationship between IT and its customers is messy, but when change is effectively managed in the new paradigm, IT’s horizontal scalability to address business automation and transformation can match business demand and even greater benefits for the company can be realized.
In the last few years, there have been giant leaps forward in business leaders’ ability to evaluate and select technology without the help of IT but at the same time a hubris has evolved that has many business leaders thinking they don’t need to partner with IT to purchase, implement, or support technology and can take on that work themselves. This misplaced confidence can lead to poorly architected, expensive software contracts, failed implementations, unsupportable software, and missed opportunities. Furthermore, IT’s hubris as the sole source supplier of technology has IT leaders asleep at the wheel for how they must change and evolve the business-IT partnership.
In the midst of change, we must self-examine and self-manage to maintain collaborative partnerships with our business counterparts. We can do this by focusing on three key areas:
• Relationship Management
• Technology Management
• Execution Management
How many times have you been invited to a meeting with a business customer only to find out that they’ve been looking at software, have already performed some type of evaluation, have been speaking to sales people or started a pilot without your knowledge? At best, you might walk into a situation where good processes have been followed and you’re being asked to lend your expertise at a pivotal point. At the worst, there’s been no process followed and the mere mention of process, pits you against your customers as an obstructionist!
To be a good partner to our customers, IT leaders need to ensure that eyes are wide open when it comes to understanding the operational support needs of technology, including security management, data aggregation and ownership, service level agreements, first, second, and third level helpdesk support as well as ancillary functions, such as report writing and monitoring.
Give your company a leg up by creating IT contract guidelines for all technology contracts to follow. These guidelines should consist of minimum and desired requirements for all technology contracts on subjects such as: typical contract models, the existence of master service agreements, statements of work and service level agreements, termination clauses, and data privacy.
Over time, your business customers will better understand the technology management components of your software contracts and be that much smarter in dealing with software vendors.
Perhaps, the best advice to give in the new era of technology-savvy customers of the IT department is the simple notion of setting clear expectations among participants in technology initiatives.
The traditional RASCI Matrix provides the basis for how technology and business leaders engage one another. From business plan development to third level support, establishing who is Responsible, Accountable, Supporting, Consulted, and Informed on any aspect of any technology is fantastic advice for sorting out who does what.
Whether your company has a Project Management Office to administer all projects, or whether project management is federated or perhaps, doesn’t exist at all, any initiative will be off to a better start by knowing who is doing what for some of the finer points such as:
• Business Case Development
• Vendor Management
• Contract Negotiations
• Requirements Definition
• 1st Level Support
The next time you embark on a technology initiative, assess your business customer for their attitude to your department and their appetite to take on the roles necessary to be successful and clarify expectations. Identify tools that can be used by your customers to advance the initiative and maintain a steady focus on what they need from you to support their goals.