IT executives manage data and transform it into value-added, timely and accurate information that uses technology to deliver on the goals of the business. To be great business partners, we need to do more than manage data. We need to help our partners transform the business, help them stay competitive and lead innovation.
This can be accomplished using innovative thinking that holds, at its core, three major business drivers. The first driver involves creating an environment that will facilitate change. As with all innovation, the first step is the hardest. We need to listen to our business partners, understand their viewpoint, as well as those of our customers and suppliers, and communicate in plain business terms.
This is accomplished by developing the trust of partners, initially through quick wins. Fix the obvious. Listen first; then act. Understand the business perspective. We are business people first; technologists second. Once quick wins are achieved, build on these successes with pilot projects or a new idea or service. Finally, deliver timely and high-quality results that may exceed requirements.
It's also important to develop a creative and analytical mindset. Turn complaints into ideas by asking for input - how would they fix the problem? This results in obtaining new ideas and insight into the way others think. We gain their perspective. Successful ideas, which can come from any part of the organization, turn into revenue generators when they are spread across the division and, ultimately, the enterprise. Empower others by building relationships, their confidence and their skills. Reward them. Empower yourself by having a passion for your work and showing it. Be positive but truthful, and make the tough choices to create change.
Standardize Your Approach
Within this newly created environment, identify legacy applications to retire. It is always easy to "pick the low-hanging fruit" - legacy applications that are old or in constant need of repair, need to be redesigned. It is harder to determine the legacy applications' interdependencies, and those applications they affect. It's key to recognize redundancies and integrate. One company I worked with found it had more than 30 check-writing routines. Combine and integrate. Organize and synergize. There should be a smooth process flow among all business processes. Develop standardized mechanisms for front office, back office, trading, order management, post trade processing, claims, clearance, settlement, procurement, regulatory compliance, sales, marketing, hiring, payroll, etc. Choose one methodology - CMMI, Six Sigma, balanced scorecard, etc. in the organization. The chosen methodology is not as important as the concept that all projects will be standardized and run the same way across the whole enterprise. The methodology you choose should be the most reflective of the enterprise's culture.
We can't enable without knowing where we have been. We can't know where we are or where we have been without measuring. Few organizations gather metrics and even fewer make those metrics useful. They may report the metric, but then they do not connect them to where they are, and where they are going. Producing a monthly report that is several hundred pages long will result in no one reading it. Actions such as these take place at organizations that do not want to innovate or change. They just want the appearance of change.
It's also important to remember to prioritize. Having some years of experience in large global enterprises, I am always shocked that many projects are not prioritized across portfolios.
Whether accomplished in the context of a project steering committee, a collaborative approach, or by using a "Top Ten" listing mechanism, prioritization gives importance to the project, aids the employees working on the project (since they know how valuable it is to the organization), and demonstrates to the business sponsor and their division the project's importance.
Drive for greater efficiency and cost controls. We are always driving for a better, cheaper, faster solution. Quality is important, but the focus must remain on business goals. Understanding the business and focusing on those goals will provide for IT a foundation for a good partnership with the business. Long term, you will be able to anticipate business goals and trends as well as technology trends.
Differentiation is Key
The second business driver involves differentiation. It's well known that competitive differentiation is key to an insurer's success, and so is knowing what your competitors are doing. For example, Yahoo! must have known that Google had powerful relationships with advertisers and were monetizing their search engine. But they didn't act quickly enough to remain competitive in that marketplace or develop a strategy to differentiate themselves. Hence, their stock and business has plummeted.
Know how your company wants to differentiate themselves from their competitors - by product and service and by quality, price, scope and time to market.
Focus on improving what you are doing now. Be No. 1 or No. 2 in the marketplace or get out of the business. Large companies that have become staid or complacent will be bypassed by their competitors if they do not improve what they currently are doing.
Innovate, Foster Growth
The third business driver involves innovation itself. Innovation comes from being dissatisfied with the status quo, and recognizing that there is a better way.
The factors of growth, commoditization and globalization are daunting and challenging, but exciting; a brave new world that we will embrace. We need to drive the change. We need to lead, and focus on thriving - not just surviving. One of the ways to accomplish this is to transform into a customer-centric organization. IT will no longer just transact information. With globalization and the Internet, everyone is a potential customer. So, we need to define our market through our products or services and grow our business around that market niche.
In the future, it is clear that business and IT as we know it will be one organization. Software-as-a-Service will transform and commoditize software and applications. Virtualization and service-oriented architecture will transform and commoditize the infrastructure world. The result? Large IT organizations will be obsolete.
A nimble and smaller "innovative thinking" organization will take IT's place and drive innovation and change.
Driving innovation and change is made possible by streamlining decision-making. We need to be nimble in a global competitive environment. The only way we can compete is to communicate, be open and streamline decision-making to the most direct part of the organization involved in the tasks. Transparency is essential. Look for opportunities to foster innovation by partnering with other industries outside of your sphere, or with smaller companies that do not have to deal with large bureaucracies. The fringes of an organization is usually where true innovation takes place; not from someone who is deeply engrossed in the current processes or core of the organization.
Finally, driving innovation and change involves being able to solve problems and execute. Solving the problem, implementing new technology, and executing are usually the easy parts.
But in many organizations, it's not enough to have the right strategic intent or propose the right solution. Sometimes, organizations do not want to innovate, change or grow; they want to keep the status quo. They may be talking one way and doing something else. We need to foster relationships, give time for people to adjust to change or innovation, and we need to be helpful even though we have a full agenda. We need to win the respect of our peers and business partners, and adapt to the culture before we sell our ideas. This is a hard balance to accomplish.
This article can also be found at InsuranceNetworking.com.
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