Showing posts with label Business Liaisons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Business Liaisons. Show all posts

September 10, 2009

IT Communications, A Must Have

Being in a technical field like IT, we often see disconnects between the “techies” and the business people—almost like they are speaking foreign languages at each other. The result is that the techies don’t really understand the business requirements and the business people don’t understand the technical solutions. It’s sort of comical to watch, if not for being so sad in terms of the huge number of failed IT projects that result.

One thing we’ve realized is that we need to be able to communicate and communicate well between the business and IT or else we are not going to be very effective at IT service provision and enabling the business to perform at its best.

One solution has been to have IT staff whose job it is to translate between the business and IT units—these people are in roles at times called “business liaisons” or IT-business relationship managers. It is helpful to assign these liaisons to each business unit and give them authority and accountability for managing and nurturing a healthy relationship and unambiguous communication between business units and IT providers. The liaisons “own the customer” and ensure that requirements are captured correctly and understood by IT, that the proposed IT solutions are clearly explained to the business, and that the customer is satisfied with the systems and services they are receiving.

A second solution is hire IT communications specialists who more broadly “market” and communicate IT plans, policies, processes, goals, objectives, initiatives, milestones, and performance. I have found these professionals to be indispensable to “getting the message out there” and enhancing awareness and understanding for IT in the organization. Of course, IT leaders play a critical role in developing and honing the actual message, and in delivering ongoing two-way communications throughout the organization. In essence, they are the ambassadors and communicators par excellence inside and outside the organization with all IT stakeholders.

In short, IT needs to communicate early and often and communicate, communicate, communicate.

ComputerWorld, August 31-September 7, 2009 has a wonderful article affirming the criticality of IT communications in an article entitled: “Marketing IT: An Inside Job” by Mary Brandel.

As Brandel states: “It’s not about hype. It’s about conveying IT’s value.” I would add that it’s not only about conveying IT’s value, but also about creating IT value, by improving the two-way communication between the business and IT and thereby generating more effective solutions.

The article provides a number of useful suggestions for marketing and communicating IT that I’ve adapted, such as customer satisfaction surveys; IT annual reports that communicates accomplishments, alignment to strategic plan, “resources saved, awards won, and conferences at which staff members have spoken;” e-Brochures with “video coverage explaining goals,” services, policies, and plans; and Twitter alerts on service outages.

The key though which Bandel points out is that IT leaders need to “embed a 24/7 marketing mindset throughout the [IT] organization.” While business liaisons and IT communications specialists are focused on and specialize in this, it is still imperative for everyone in the IT organization to understand and be able to market and communicate IT services and processes to customers. All IT personnel are representatives to the business and should present and represent that customer service is our #1 goal.

From my perspective, this means transitioning our IT organizations to be wholly user-centric. This means a clear and ever present awareness that the business is IT’s raison d’être.


March 15, 2009

Leadership Should Integrate Spirituality and Mission

I remember learning in religious day school that people are half spiritual beings and half animal and that it was a person’s duty (or test in life) to imbue the carnal part of our existence with spirituality.

It was nice to see a book today that brought this topic home; it is called “G-d is My CEO” by Larry Julian.

The premise of the book is that “we usually want to do the right thing, but often succumb to the short-term, bottom line demands of daily business life.”

Julian states: “The bottom line had become their G-d. It was insatiable. No matter how hard they worked, it was never enough, nor would it ever be enough.”

As I see it, people have two faces (or more) and one is their weekend persona that is family and G-dly oriented and the other is the one for the rest of the week—for business—that is driven by materialism, accomplishment, and desire for personal success.

This is where the test of true leadership comes into play.

We can and must do better in our business lives by “doing the right thing regardless of the outcome” and “expanding the definition of success from making money to making a difference.”


We’re all experts at making excuses, why we need to be successful in business, achieve results, make lots of money, get the next promotion (and the next and the next) and that “the end justifies the means; you get to the outcome regardless of how you accomplish it”!

In Information Technology, it’s no different than in any other business function. It’s a competitive environment and most of the time, people’s raw ambitions are somewhat obscured (but still operating there) and occasionally you see the worst come out in people—not working together (like system operating in stovepipes), or worse criticizing, bad-mouthing, and even back stabbing.

As a CIO or CTO, we must rise above this and lead by a different set of principles. To this end, I like the “Servant Leadership” doctrine put forward by Julian.

In short, the servant leader, leads by example and puts people first and in essence, spiritually elevates the baser ambitions of people.

The servant leader is “one who serves others, not one who uses others. He/she “serves employees so they can serve others.”

“When we [as leaders] serve others, we help them succeed” and thereby we can accomplish the mission even better than pure individual greed ever could.


The CIO/CTO can lead people, modernize and transform the enterprise with innovation and technology, to accomplish the mission better than ever and we can do it by integrating spirituality and kindness to people into what we do every day in our working lives.

Unfortunately, IT organizations are often run not by elevating people and making them significant, but instead by running them into the ground. The mission is demanding the latest and greatest to stay competitive. The technology is changing rapidly. IT specialists are challenged to keep up with training on new hardware, programming languages, systems development and project management techniques, best practice frameworks, and so forth, The Help Desk and Desktop support people are routinely yelled at by the customers. Security and privacy issues are a constant threat to operations. IT is denigrated as a support function, whose people don’t understand the business; IT is viewed as a utility and it’s people often pushed out for outsourcing.

Truly, in this type of demanding and challenging environment, it is tough for any IT organization and its people to maintain their dignity and spirituality. But that is precisely where the CIO/CTO must lead and demonstrate humanity and care for people. The true IT leader will impose structures to create order out of chaos and in so doing elevate people as the critical asset they truly are to the organization.

Here’s some ways we can do this:

  1. Treat all employees with respect and dignity by representing their interests in the organization, as well as abiding by at the very least minimal standards of professionalism and courtesy
  2. Partner with the business so that it’s not us versus them, but just one big US.
  3. Develop a meaningful architecture plan and sound IT governance so everyone understands the way ahead and is working off the “same sheet of music.”
  4. Manage business expectations—don’t overpromise and under deliver, which leads to frustration and anger; instead set challenging but attainable goals.
  5. Filter requirements through a “single belly button” of seasoned business liaisons, so that the rank and file employees aren’t mistreated for doing their sincere best.
  6. Provide training and tools for people to do their jobs and stay current and understand not only the technology, but the business.

Through these and other servant leader examples, we can integrate our spiritual and material lives and be the types of leaders that not only deliver, but that we can really be proud to be.


March 14, 2009

Bridging the Business and IT Divide

Leadership is all about people. In the simplest terms, you can’t be a leader without followers. And to inspire and motivate people to follow, you need a clear vision and the ability to articulate it. Moreover, leaders need to be professionally and technically competent; they need to understand their industry and the competitive environment, and be able to effectively engage decision makers, subject matter experts, and employees across the enterprise and stakeholders outside of it.

For a CIO, leadership can be even more challenging because of the balance needed between the business and technical aspects of job and the need to communicate to those two communities in their respective languages and to be able to translate between them. Often, sitting in meetings I see the best intentioned IT folks often talking techie “right past” their business counterparts and the business folks discussing mission to IT people who may never have been outside the confines of the IT environment.

As the CIO, it’s key to bridge the divide and help the business and IT communities in the organization work together and learn to speak and understand each other. Only this way, can the IT folks understand the business requirements and the business folks understand the technical solutions being proposed.

To accomplish this, the CIO should have the business and IT people work together in integrated project teams (IPT’s), tiger teams, task forces, and so on to accomplish IT projects, rather than the business just being consulted at the beginning of the project on the requirements, and handed a “this is what we thought you wanted” deliverable at the end.

Further, the CIO should appoint business liaisons or customer relationship managers to routinely work with the business, understand their needs and work to address them—until completion and satisfaction. The business liaisons need to “own the customer” and should not just be a pass-through to the help desk with no follow up, closure, or performance measurement

Where appropriate, I think it is even a good idea to collocate the business and IT people together, rather than in their separate fiefdoms and functional silos to so they really become a cohesive team—sharing business and IT knowledge and working together to implement an IT enabled business.

Of course, the CIO should encourage training, field trips, work details, and other cross-pollinating initiatives.

Finally, a robust enterprise architecture and IT governance helps to effectively bring the business and IT people together to jointly build the plan and make the decisions, so that it is not one side or the other working in a vacuum or imposing little understood requirements or solutions on the other.

In the book, The New CIO Leader by Boardbent and Kitzis, one of the basic premises is that “every CIO will follow one of two paths:” as follows:

--either they will be a “chief technology mechanic,” narrowly focused on IT to the exclusion of the business.

- or they will be a “new CIO leader,” where “IT is at the heart of every significant business process and is crucial to innovation and enterprise success.”

To be the new CIO leader, and truly integrate IT into the very fabric of the mission, you need to “weave business and IT strategy together” and also integrate the business and IT people to work effectively together.

Of course, this starts with building a high-performing IT organization, but must also involve regularly reaching out to the business at every opportunity and including them as full partners in build effective and efficient enterprise architecture planning, IT governance, and full systems life cycle execution.

In my opinion, the new CIO leader, does not think just IT, but lives and breathes the business and does everything in their power to bring the two not just in alignment, but in true partnership.

How important is this?

As Broadbent and Kitzis state: “If you don’t think like a constantly ‘re-new-ing’ CIO, you may be on our way to becoming an ex-CIO.