Unilever transforms IT professionals into business partners

Global manufacturer Unilever is training its IT services departments to to play a more important role in the business.

Global manufacturer Unilever is training its IT services departments to to play a more important role in the business.

The transformation of the role of IT professionals into what the company describes as business partners aims at enabling IT staff to make technology decisions based on what the business wants to achieve. In the past IT staff were not involved in the decision-making process, but merely executed user requests.

Daryl Beck, director of IT excellence at Unilever, said the company wanted IT professionals to acquire skills that would allow them to engage in "strategic conversations with the business leaders".

He said that as businesses increasingly outsourced IT support and development the IT professional had to be able to talk to business leaders about the delivery of the business strategy and how IT could contribute.

Unilever is procuring many commodity IT services through multiple suppliers, said Beck, which means the company's in-house IT professionals are responsible for managing partner networks and outsourced relationships.

"These IT business partners now need skills such as supplier relationship management, facilitation and communication as well as consultation skills not usually associated with the traditional IT professional's role," Beck said.

Unilever partnered with three training organisations to develop the training programme, which focuses on consulting, relationship management, change management and personal development skills.

No single training company was able to provide the whole combination, so the company selected the most approriate tools and techniques for its programme from QA-IQ, Quantic Group and McLane Group.

Beck said the programme was already delivering results.

"We have started to see a positive change in the image of IT and IT having an influence in the business," he said.

Unilever plans to have its IT transformation programme accredited by the Information Systems Examination Board (ISEB) or similar organisation.

However, Beck said that he would make sure that accreditation went further than just passing exams, and included an assessment by the business, peers and managers of candidates' professionalism in terms of their actual output.

Since mid-2006, 300 IT employees have entered the programme across Unilever's operations in Europe. The company plans to extend the programme to the Americas and other regions this year.

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