How can IT drive change

Driving change in a business is part and parcel of the IT department's charter. So how does a former CTO who's made the leap to CEO drive change?

Andrew Wilshire has had a interesting career. He ascended the corporate ladder in a very short time with a key role, as Chief Technology Officer, at multinational dairy company Fonterra in his mid 20s. After three years in that role he moved on to become the Managing Director of Tomorrow, an Auckland based consulting firm. We talked to him to find out how he successfully delivers technical change into businesses.

Like many C-Level executives, Wilshire sees that “the gap between business in IT is so pronounced in terms of outcomes and financial results. It’s about trying to align business process with what comes out of the box [from IT] rather than trying to rewire the technology to fit an existing, broken process”.

One of the great challenges facing companies is determining what it is that makes them unique. Often, significant focus is given to processes that are generic across businesses rather than processes that offer a significant market advantage. “You’ve got two choices. You can either decide that you’re very niche and unique and you need to model and customise software and systems so that they’re tailored to your environment. Or you can say we’re not that special so we’ll buy our systems off the shelf or online and work through organisational change”.

Wilshire’s focus, through Tomorrow, is to work with the people affected by changed systems. While many IT departments focus on the technology, Wilshire says that “getting stakeholders on board early enough and warming people up to the change is important because change is painful. Managing relationships throughout the project lifecycle and the expectations of the technology team are important”.

Existing IT organisations feel threatened by the wave of new technologies that are coming to market. In the past, standardisation was a central mantra for many IT departments with standardisation a key plank of a company’s technical environment. However, the easy access to new technologies and the ease in which they can be integrated is driving an increased focus on delivering business outcomes rather than technical solutions. “It’s forcing IT to become more business process focussed. What’s the business we’re in? How does the process work today and how does technology enable it?

That means working with C-Level execs to determine what core business really is. For example, while the ability to send accurate invoices is important, it might not be a point of market advantage for your business. In that case, it may be better to adapt the business to a tool rather than the other way around.

In some cases, particularly in businesses with high transactional volumes like utilities, your billing system might become a product in itself. Wilshire mused that “utilities might have relationships with millions of paying customers, putting them in perfect position to become a micro-payments provider for other businesses or some sort of payments broker or mediator”. Such internal questioning can have companies really thing about what their core competency really is.

So - how does the CIO take the CEO on the journey of discovery to find out what it is that makes their business special? A big part of the challenge in delivering an IT strategy, says Wilshire, is that when the business doesn't have a clearly articulated business strategy it becomes IT’s problem. However IT is uniquely placed in the business to help solve that problem.

“IT often has a pan-organisational view of capability and where there are gaps” says Wilshire. “Because IT often has access to significant funds in the business they can work with the CEO to create new value opportunities”. However, being able to bring the CEO along for the journey means potentially curbing your enthusiasm for technology and change and put clear evidence in front of them. Showing where there are divergent processes or strategies can be an important way of bringing these matters to the fore. IT project offices can often be the leaders in organisations as they are exposed to the breadth of a business so they’re able to put together the big picture.

Wilshire has taken his experience and applies it at Tomorrow. By using disciplined business process analysis, he looks at how businesses can get the best value from their technology. “That starts by understanding the customer’s objectives and what they’re trying to achieve and then applying a lens of business process over the top of that objective and then understanding what needs to be done”.

It’s critical to use a disciplined modeling methodology, what Wilshire calls a “business process architecture” tool. This allows him to find the boundaries of a process and work out where value is either lost or can be created. This also provides a map of how the business works and a set of KPIs that can be used to report on the company’s performance and support benchmarking against competitors.

Wilshire’s final word for driving successful change is perhaps the most important. “Trying to drive business change from within the IT department is almost certain to fail. You need executive sponsorship from whoever has responsibility for P and L in their business unit. There’s no point trying to mess around with stuff on the margins. You may as well go for the throat and fix business processes that are broken”.

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