Best Practices: A Business-First Approach to IT
At some point, likely in the very near future, your organization will have to implement a technology upgrade. Often, these upgrades become monumental tasks that consume a significant portion of your organization’s time and resources—resources that are normally reserved for the daily operation of your business.
Due to the time-consuming and complex nature of upgrades and migrations, the main priority often becomes installing the new technology with as few disruptions to operations as possible. “Just get through it” develops into the silent mantra. But this approach misses a key element that should occur before an upgrade: an evaluation of why you are implementing the technology in the first place.
Every day, I work with organizations that operate on autopilot. I’ve seen businesses that have been using the same enterprise software programs for years without really understanding how the technology can benefit the enterprise. It’s like buying a Ferrari without ever driving faster than 10 miles per hour.
I’ve also seen organizations attempt to use every bell and whistle that a new technology has to offer, when they actually need only a few features. With this approach, it’s not long before employees become overwhelmed and eventually stop using the technology altogether.
The best way to unite technology and business goals is to define what you are trying to accomplish at the organizational level and then drill down to see how technology can play a role in helping you reach the organizational goals—not the other way around. It may be tempting to start with the technology side of the equation, but the reality is that an upgrade or migration is not just a technology issue. In fact, it is not just a business issue, either. It’s both.
Upper management’s lack of involvement is often the main reason for the disconnect between IT goals and organizational goals. So you need to foster buy-in from all the stakeholders and end users. Without their support and buy-in, the implementation is doomed to be a failure.
To uncover your essential business needs and goals, start by asking, “What problem or business opportunity do we want to address?” Any technology must be accompanied by a business case that clearly outlines how that technology will provide quantifiable organizational benefits by solving a problem or helping the enterprise reach its objectives.
Don’t fall victim to vague goals, such as “increase productivity,” “improve collaboration” or “streamline document management.” These requirements may sound good on the surface, but they will result in few measurable gains unless they are further defined.
Better collaboration is a great goal, but what does it mean in terms of dollars and cents? Start by finding your organization’s pain points and then determine which technologies will address them directly.
Once you have established the business objectives, the task of choosing the right technology is simplified. The objectives make it easy to rule out technologies that don’t directly address your business needs, and they help home in on technologies that can.
Don’t get distracted by too many bells and whistles, and try to use out-of-the-box technology whenever possible. Add third-party add-ons only when needed, and create custom software only when necessary. Don’t deploy every feature available on a new technology unless your business case demonstrates a need for it.
Once you have chosen your technology, develop a business process map to ensure proper implementation. Most organizations miss the “people” and “process” part of technology. These enterprises give the green light to implement the technology, but they don’t plan who will do what or how it will be done.
Remember to define the scope of the project to fit within your organization’s capacity for change. Rationalize the solution to a level of complexity that can reasonably be accomplished.
An enterprisewide technology rollout is as much about people as it is about the technology. For a technology rollout to be successful, a change management strategy must be put in place prior to rollout. This strategy should include a governance definition, adoption plan, training plan and, most important, an understanding of the culture of your organization.
If stakeholders on both sides of the spectrum—at the executive level as well as the end-user level—can understand how the technology you are proposing solves a pain point, they will find value in leveraging that technology. However, keep in mind that this revelation doesn’t come without a change management strategy.
Mike Taylor is founder, president and CEO of Innovative-e, a business consulting, solutions and education company specializing in SharePoint technologies.