What IT Can Learn From Manufacturing

Background

A long time ago, or at least what seems like a long time ago, in the U.S., Manufacturing was King. For companies whose primary product was manufactured, manufacturing, along with finance, dominated discussions.  There was little concern for quality, cost, or customer service.  The customers would get what they got (and like it), and any additional costs incurred would simply be passed along in the price of the product.  Life was good! Continue reading

Creating a Necessary Dependence – An IT Business Alignment Whitepaper

 

Over the past several months, I have written several posts about the issues facing IT Business Alignment, a need to create a dependence between IT and the Business, and an emphasis on taking a process centric approach to the issue.

I decided to consolidate that into a white paper, which is now available. 

It’s not sponsored by a large software or hardware company, but does present an approach offered by my company (New Age Technologies) to help an organization move toward IT Business Alignment by focusing on a process to be improved, then understanding how it’s infrastructure and technology can help that process.

Please feel free to leave any comments about the paper at this post, or you can email me at the address on the paper.

I hope you enjoy!

Whitepaper:  Creating a Necessary Dependence: A Process Centric Framework for IT Business Alignment

 

Thanks!

 

Glenn Whitfield

Want IT Business Alignment? Change Your Approach and Create a Dependence

 

What’s wrong with your approach to IT Business Alignment is your approach to IT Business Alignment. For over 30 years, organizations have been wrestling with the IT Business Alignment issue, and according to the annual Society of Information Management survey it remains a top issue today. 

Why is this so difficult to get our arms around?  I’ve written previously about how defining IT Business Alignment has been an ongoing issue, and how our organizational structures make it very challenging (here).  We have spent so much time struggling to figure out the right approach that perhaps we have lost our way.

Part of this struggle is due to the definition itself.  ITIL v3 defines Business/IT Alignment as:

An approach to the delivery of IT Services that tries to align the Activities of the IT Service provider with the needs of the Business.

The problem with this definition is it defines Business/IT Alignment as an approach. Other definitions call it an “ongoing process” (Wikipedia).  While there may be a process to achieve it, Business/IT Alignment is not an approach or process, it is an outcome.

It is the outcome of many different approaches and processes which will vary by organization and will involve varying levels of technology.  Defining it as an outcome:

IT Business Alignment is the delivery of IT Services that does align the IT activities to the needs of the business.

Now looking at it as an outcome, how do you know when you’ve achieved it?  Well, it’s just like in the movie Goldfinger, when James Bond is asked, “What do you know about gold 007?”  His response was, “I know it when I see it.”  IT Business Alignment is like this in many ways because there is no “one size fits all” solution; each organization is unique, and alignment will look different in each.  This is what makes it so challenging.  An attempt by Company B to replicate the alignment results at Company A will likely be disappointing, because Company B is different than Company A.

However, to achieve this outcome, there must be some fundamental pieces in place in order to drive the approaches to meet the outcome of IT Business Alignment.  Fundamentally, IT and Business must be dependent on each other for success, and this dependence must be mutually recognized and acted upon.

Creating this dependence starts with creating a relationship and establishing common metrics.  Many will say this already exists in their organization.  Before you do, ask if the actions back it up?  Remember, not only does the dependence need to be recognized, but it must be acted upon.

 One way to act is to take the initiative to engage with the business in helping improve their operation.  This is where taking a process based focus to the operation can provide real benefit.  Using techniques like Business Process Management, or the one we’ve developed like the IT2x FrameworkSM, can help IT and Business create the necessary dependence and become aligned.

Once aligned, continue to move IT and the business closer.  Whether you call this Synchronization, Convergence, or Fusion, doesn’t matter.  What does matter is the continuous process of moving toward these goals. 

Change your approach to IT Business Alignment.  Stop treating it as an approach, and start looking at it as an outcome.  Then act toward achieving this outcome, by creating a dependence on each other through relationships, common metrics, and a process centric approach to improving operations. 

Let me know your thoughts!

 

Glenn Whitfield

 

 

 

 

Lean & IT

Forrester Research recently held several “jam sessions” the first of which was one that focused on the topic of creating a leaner IT, and has followed it up with several discussions on lean, declaring, “lean is ‘in’ right now.”  This scares me.  Not because the folks at Forrester are wrong, precisely the opposite.  They are right on in declaring that lean is a mindset and culture.  What scares me is how organizations and consultants will respond to this declaration.

Now, I am a huge proponent of Lean, having been involved with it my entire career, but organizations need to tread carefully when embracing Lean thinking.   Many will start with declaring they are starting a new ‘lean initiative’ and will hold kaizen events, use Value Stream Mapping, send people to training, study the Toyota Production System, and, yes, they will get results (this stuff DOES work).  After a while, however, they will start to stagnate.  The ‘lean initiative’ will start to seem stale, and will eventually wither on the vine, becoming yet another initiative that failed to sustain and meet expectations.

Why do they fail?  Because they did not implement Lean, they implemented the TOOLS of Lean.  Kaizen is a tool, Value Stream Mapping is a tool – in and of themselves, they are not Lean.  Lean is a culture of the continuous pursuit of the elimination of waste in everything the organization does.  Toyota does not care that companies (even competitors) come study their production systems, because they know that by the time the competitor is able to implement what they observed, Toyota will have moved on – that is the way their corporate culture works.  Toyota does not have a ‘Lean initiative.’ Toyota does not ‘do’ Lean, they ‘are’ Lean.  It’s just the way they do business.

Implementing the tools of Lean will get you results, and will help move you toward becoming a Lean organization, but Lean is bigger than the tools.

So, as IT organizations move to embrace Lean thinking, the question becomes, “Are you going to ‘do’, Lean, or are you going to ‘BE’ Lean?”

Glenn Whitfield

IT's Responsibility to the Business

 

When implementing a technology project, whether major or relatively minor, it is easy to forget the value and insight IT leaders and project managers can bring to the process being impacted.  This is something that is often forgotten not only by business leaders, but by IT leaders as well.  Much of this can be attributed to the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” attitude.  This must STOP!

As stated in previous posts, IT is in the unique position to see the impact of changes across the organization, not just in the primary area impacted.  But, while it’s one thing to see it, it’s another to actually DO something about it.  How often does this happen?  A business leader makes a decision.  The IT staff follows orders and provides the IT solution that does what the business leader said he wanted – all the while wondering why such a “bonehead” decision was made due to the implications on the business further down the process.  The thoughts often go like this, “Hey business leader, you asked for a solution; I gave you what you asked for.  Not my problem if there were other issues because of your decision.  That’s not part of my job.”  IT leaders will cringe at the thought of their staffs thinking this way, and will swear up and down it doesn’t happen in their shop – but it happens, more than we would like to know.

Here’s a way to avoid it.  When I was working with a $1 Billion regional healthcare organization with multiple IT systems, the IT project manager came to me with a problem (one core system solves the problem, but that’s another issue).  The organization wanted to launch a branch of the rehab hospital inside of one of the existing acute care hospitals.  His job was to get the IT systems up and running.  They had just had a meeting where the acute care hospital president stated he wanted the rehab branch on the same IT system as his hospital.  To him, it made sense to have all the patient information on his system (primarily for accounting purposes), since the rehab branch was in his hospital.  The problem was, as the project manager explained to me, that the rehab hospital and all its existing branches were on a different system, and the physical therapists staffing the branch could come from any of the branches, so they would have to learn and know 2 core systems.  Also, it was planned that patients would transfer from the rehab branch at the acute hospital to other less specialized branches as their condition improved, creating duplicate entries when the patient went to another branch.  And, to top it off, the additional work to write and test the multiple interfaces put the project’s timing at risk.  But, the president said he wanted the rehab branch on his system, so that’s the direction the team was taking.  I asked a simple question, “Does he understand the consequences of his decision?  Did anyone explain them to him?”  The answer was, “No, he’s the president.”  My advice, “Then you need to.  He’s a reasonable person, lay it out and make sure he is informed.”  And he did.  The president realized the implications of his decision, and quickly reversed it, keeping in mind what was best for the organization as a whole. 

 When a business leader makes a decision about the direction of a project, and you know there will be unintended consequences, speak up.  No, not in front of everyone, but in a one-on-one session (always remember to use tact – never intentionally, or unintentionally, embarrass the boss in front of others).  Collect the information and what you believe to be the consequences of the decision and present them in a logical, concise manner (keep your boss informed as well – whether or not your boss attends will depend on your organization’s culture).  Then if the business leader still makes the same decision, at least they have done so with full knowledge of the consequences, and you have done all you can do to keep them informed.  Then, you may sleep better at night…. or want to update your resume.

Holiday Alignment Wishes

 

As we wrap up a year that many would like to forget, let’s at least be grateful for the good things that have happened.  Come on, there had to be at least one….

 

The holiday season is a great time to think about the past year, and get ready for the new one.  With that in mind, here are some Holiday Alignment Wishes I have:

 

o   IT Leaders will stop whining about how Business leaders “just don’t get it” and will actually go DO something about it.

o   Business leaders will stop blaming everyone (including IT) for their problems and look deeply at their own processes.

o   CIOs will step up to the plate and show how they can add real business value to the organization

o   CEOs/CFOs/COOs  will listen to their CIO

o   EVERYONE (CEOs, CIOs, IT leaders, Business leaders) will get over themselves and start working together to figure out how to improve their organization and make it successful.

 

This is a great time to take a look in the mirror and ask a simple question, “Am I part of the problem?”  Then ask yourself one more, “What am I going to do about it?”

 

Here’s to hoping 2009 is Happy, Health and Safe!!!

 

Aligning Technology to User's Needs

  

Had a client presentation the other day where we were reporting out on an assessment we did of the client’s infrastructure and IT processes.  The client asked us what presentation materials we would need, and we simply said we needed a large screen and we would bring the projector.  When we arrived, we were taken to a very nice conference room that was about 15’ x 30’.  At one end was a very nice 42” plasma screen.  We were told we could use that screen, there was not a larger one in the room.  We hooked up and away we went.  Problem was, if you were in the back of the room, you couldn’t read what was on the screen.  Yes you could see it, but you couldn’t read it.  Good thing we had handouts as well.

This happens all the time.  Organizations deploy technology (the 42” plasma screen with all the bells and whistles), without thinking through how it will be used.  I am sure everyone in the organization was very excited to have the latest and greatest technology at their disposal, until someone at the back of the room actually had to try to read the screen.

We made it through the presentation and averted disaster, but I kept thinking: how could it have been better?  A larger screen could have been used, or they could have placed the screen on the 30’ wall, but that would have meant blocking a window (to the lobby); possibly having multiple screens available.  Maybe there were some hook-ups in/under the table that you could plug in to so you could see it on your laptop?  If there were, no one in the room knew about it.  It was obvious no one thought to ask how the technology was going to be used, and if the technology being deployed was appropriate.  After all, it was only a conference room, and anyone can figure out what to do there.  How often do we make that assumption?

 So, how do you improve situations like this?  It’s easy.  When deploying even the simplest technology, make sure you understand how the user intends to utilize it, and work with them to make sure they are using it to optimize both the technology and the user’s process.  Simple conversations that take a little bit of time will go a long way toward better alignment with the business.

Let me know your thoughts!

Enhance the Value of IT

 

Michal Krigsman’s recent blog post, ‘IT has no inherent value’ summarizes a research paper, MANAGING THE REALIZATION OF BUSINESS BENEFITS FROM IT INVESTMENTS, in which the authors present a model for benefits realization, and make the argument technology by itself offers no benefits nor creates any value.  While this argument can easily be defended, the same argument can be made about just about any tool or device out there.  A paint brush has no value by itself, but put it in the hands of a talented artist, and a masterpiece may emerge.  The same can be said for technology, unless you use it, and use it properly, it will add no value. 

Before we throw all the problems with technology on the user (business) community, the IT community has a stake in this as well.  Because, like it or not, when a technology project does not meet the desired objectives, IT gets blamed, even though it may have been the “business” that failed.  So, how can IT add more value?  Because of the unique position that IT holds – involved in every area of an organization, like a blanket covering a bed, IT leadership has some great opportunities to help an organization improve. 

Here are some ways to enhance the value of IT:

1)      Figure out how the business makes money, and understand the process.  This may be common sense, but how often is it common practice?  Find out how you can improve that process by either enhancing the revenue stream or reducing costs.

2)      Be a champion / catalyst for improvement – not just change.  It has been said, every improvement is a change, but every change is not an improvement.  Don’t just promote change for the sake of change.  Promote change for the sake of improvement.  Once you have done #1, this will be easier.

3)      Work across the organization to bring people together – be a collaborator.  Since IT is involved in every facet of an organization, who better to bring people together when there are issues, or to help solve a problem.  Speaking of problems:

4)      Solve a problem for a business owner.  Find out what problems the line of business leaders are having, then use technology to help solve their problem.  Ideally, this would be technology that already exists in the organization, but is not being utilized to its fullest extent, or it may be new technology.

5)      Provide and support the technology tools the business owners need to improve.  Work with the business leaders to understand their needs and what tools they need to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.  Make sure you are providing them the support they need to be successful.

6)      Educate business owners on technology.  This is a constant and it never ends. Constantly be educating the business leadership on what technology is available, and how it can help them improve.

Getting started on these is relatively simple, but not easy.  Then again, anything worth doing rarely is.

IT Budget Cut? An Opportunity Awaits.

 

 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  So goes the start of Charles Dicken’s  A Tale of Two Cities, and so goes the times in which we currently live.  With the economy a train wreck, the edicts have come down from upon high – cut, cut, cut.  And we’re not talking about the government here, where a cut means your budgeted increase is cut, no, these are real.  If you spent $100 this year, you only get $80 for next year. 

 

And while this can be an opportunity to get rid of some “dead weight,” the legal department usually has some problems with the obvious, so other rationales are used, none of which ever make sense to the survivors.    There were ten people in the group, and on Monday there are only eight.  The survivors of these slashings inevitably get to hear, “now we all have to work together,” or “dig deeper” or “put in the extra effort.”   I am constantly amazed at how companies execute these orders.

 

Several years ago as a manager, having survived a 30% reduction at a large manufacturer, I asked my boss, “OK, since we are not getting any tools to make us more efficient, what are we going to stop doing?”  After giving me the death stare for what seemed like forever, he realized it was going to be tough to motivate people already working 12 hour days, 6 days a week to work longer, he simply said, “I don’t know, but you’re right, we have to take a look at it.”  We used it as an opportunity to review our processes, and drastically restructure the department, plus eliminated about 20 reports that were either redundant, or nobody looked at anymore.

 

So, while times are tight, and you are asked to do more with less, don’t just ask your people to “suck it up.”  Take a look at your processes, look for waste, and ways to improve.  It doesn’t always take new technology.  Often times, you will find that you can use technology you already have in place to help you implement the change.  But you have to look.

 

There’s an opportunity out there – you just have to look for it!

 

Let me know your thoughts!

 

Glenn

 

IT Business Alignment – Why is it so hard?

 

Whether or not we are talking about aligning IT to the Business or Business to IT, the thought becomes – why is this so difficult to accomplish? The issue was first raised in 1977 by Ephraim McLean & John Soden in their book Strategic Planning for MIS. Since 1980 it has been a top 10 issue on the Society of Information Management’s (SIM) annual survey of the top issues facing CIOs. Since 1994, it has been either #1 or #2. This might make a good episode of “Unsolved Mysteries.”

 

 

 

When you have a problem that won’t go away, you need to take a step back and re-look at the problem. Are we attacking this the right way? Do we have the right tools to solve the problem? Are our fundamental assumptions about the problem correct? Do our assumptions keep changing as we get new information? Do we fully understand the problem? Are we even asking the right question? Why is it not Business to IT alignment? Is alignment even what we are looking for? Should it be convergence? Why not teamwork? Or maybe it should be cooperation? Perhaps even partnership? Maybe solving world hunger would be easier? Even taking a step back can be overwhelming.

 

 

So, let’s go back to what we say we want to achieve – IT Business alignment. It just looks so darned simple. Three parts – IT / Business / Alignment. To peel back the onion a little more, let’s look at what we mean by these three parts:

 

 

Alignment – I have discussed in previous posts alignment can be defined as a state of agreement or cooperation among persons, groups, nations, etc., with a common cause or viewpoint. Basically it means we are on the same page, we agree, see eye-to-eye, are synched, etc.

 

So, we want IT and Business agree and cooperate, let’s just say, to be synchronized. So far, so good.

 

IT – When we look at the phrase “IT Business Alignment” what do we think of when we see “IT”? The answer is, as you might expect, “it depends.” It depends on your perspective, on what your paradigm is. If you ask people who work for a technology company or in a technology department, they will likely say “Information Technology”; ask people who don’t work in these areas, and they will likely say “IT department.”

 

Things are starting to get tricky now.  We could be heading for some trouble here. Let’s continue.

 

Business – What in the world do we mean by “Business?” It can be defined many different ways. A brief summary from dictionary.com reveals the following definitions of business:

A commercial or industrial enterprise and the people who constitute it

The activity of providing goods and services involving financial and commercial aspects

A building or site where commercial work is carried on

An occupation, profession or trade

Something that one has to do or should do

 

Which definition should we use? For our purposes, let’s say it’s the activity of providing goods and services involving financial and commercial aspects.

 

 So, on one level, we can look at “IT Business Alignment” as:

The Information Technology utilized is synchronized with the activity of providing goods and services.

 

Theoretically, this looks great. Even if we look at IT as a “department,” it doesn’t look too bad:

it-business-alignment-i

But when we expand business it becomes more difficult. As the “activity of providing goods and services” evolved, it was structured and organized. Traditionally, this has been accomplished by the creation of those magical things called “departments.”  Now things are starting to get interesting.

 

In an organization, we have an IT department, but can anyone tell me where the Business department is? Other than on a university campus, or a very small business, they don’t exist. Business has become a collection of departments, and departments of departments. So when we look at aligning IT (the department) to Business (the departments) it starts to look scary:

it-business-alignment-ii

 

Note: Not all possible links shown

 

In our traditional paradigm, with IT as a department, each one of the links to the other departments should be aligned. Each one should be synchronized with the activities of each. Maybe now we can see why it is still an issue.

 

What have we done to ourselves? When Frederick Taylor and Alfred Sloan set up the concepts of division of labor and the organizational structures as we know them today, IT did not exist. So, when it came along, we fit it right into our existing model. IT became another department. This arguably worked for years when IT was basically mainframes, and large, dedicated staffs and specialized personnel managed the systems. But, as technology has evolved, and grown to become an integral part of what we do each day, have we changed the way we manage IT? Sure we’ve downsized, and outsourced many of the activities that are now commodities, but the basic organizational structure has remained unchanged in most companies.

  

One could easily argue all we need to do is just change the organizational structure. That will solve the problem. Will it? Be careful of the “Silver Bullet.” While changing the organizational structure alone will not change the behaviors that have been embedded over the years, it can be a start toward creating better alignment. But, before we can change the organization, we have to understand what we are asking for.

 

So, take a step back, ask, “what does it take to achieve IT Business Alignment?” look at your structure and see what you are really asking to do. Then think about if reorganizing could help start you toward achieving better alignment.  The answer will be different for each organization, and remember, this is just one of many actions to get aligned.

 

Time for some thinking – something we don’t do enough of.

 

Glenn