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IT Mission: Deliver Competitiveness Beyond Compliance

  • September 01 2004, 1:00am EDT
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This article, the second in a series, describes deliverables and leadership actions. The process integrates lean Six Sigma and project management processes.

Your colleagues on senior staff realize that IT support is critical to meeting new regulatory requirements. They're vigilant as you step forward to deliver compliance requirements. Noncompliance is not an option. Given the severe fines aimed directly at the senior executives, you have an advantaged position. Be ready to prove that an IT leader can deliver not just compliance, but an overall competitive advantage to the enterprise. Done right, this task will earn you respect and reframe the power grid (management politics). Compliance requirements will impact budgets and scrutinize efficiency across the board. The IT strategy needs to draw the support of cross-functional teams as effectively as it addresses IT changes. It's a tall order, but worth the rewards if you can deliver the goods.

Even as we begin the second 30-day action plan (for details on the first action plan, please see the August issue of DM Review, page 27), we are not evaluating specific technology or business process improvements such as consolidation or cost savings from faster servers or compact storage, SANs integrating fibre channel and Internet protocol, faster and higher capacity communication links, or new software tools for productivity, analysis and security. The best-of-breed tool may not be the best alternative. Unlike compliance, IT evaluation criteria are not binary. Compatibility, skills, resources and cost of transition often predetermine what is feasible.

In this action plan, we will execute two strategies: (1) the collection of data with a critical eye to evaluate regulatory compliance and, as an overlay, what potential competitive advantage we can draw in the fix process, and (2) the creation of a work environment that exemplifies teamwork and collaboration.

Figure 1: Snapshot of the past 30-day activities and next 30-day action plan.

Often, leadership can drive enthusiasm and collaboration. Especially in times of tight budgets and deadlines, cooperation is critical. Let us frame three role-model behaviors that can help you collaboratively deliver an overall enterprise competitive advantage.

Role Model Behavior #1: Focus on competitive advantage, not cost of compliance.

Compliance is mandatory and binary. Your company either meets legal requirements or it does not. Generally speaking, whatever expense is needed for compliance will be invested. Leverage new investments by delivering strategic advantage identified by your CEO, CFO, COO or HR: cost reduction across the board, improved collaboration in use of corporate assets (including information), faster time to market, more turns of the inventory, faster response to the customer, increase in customer loyalty, increased revenue per transaction per customer, increased consideration rate and low employee turnover. Keep the team focused on strategic competitive advantage. It strengthens the entire enterprise and can rally support across the board.

Role Model Behavior #2: Recognize and reward to build teamwork.

You build a better and stronger team and deeper integration of cross-functional collaborative initiatives by recognizing contributors for timely completion of quality deliverables. Some of the members contributing to this effort have other full-time responsibilities that have not been waived. Set up a multitiered reward structure: verbal team recognition (hero of the week), document appreciation (letter), modest reward ($100 gift certificate), significant financial recognition ($1,000 to $5,000) and impressive recognition (annual company recognition outing). Often, HR-allocated recognition funds need help to be disbursed. Work diligently so every team has the opportunity to earn the recognition. Have your project manager set a target to recognize top contributors regularly. Investing in recognition not only replicates best practices, but also drives team performance to a higher level.

Role Model Behavior #3: Document progress to create trust.

Documenting goals, commitments, agreements, gaps and validations is an effective method to review progress and set course correction. Establish a team, department and a senior staff-level communication strategy. Be meticulous and guard accuracy. If a gap needs to be identified, ensure prior alerts are sent well in advance, eliminating any surprises. Preview updates to senior staff with your team. You can buy competence; you will need to earn trust. This process will go a long way in establishing trust. Apply your company's collaboration/messaging/communications tools (shared folders, e-mail alerts).

Positive attitude can ignite enthusiasm among teams to contribute extraordinary results. Keep a laser-sharp focus on progress as you facilitate resource and cost trade-offs with business teams. This is different than managing an IT team, but it is essential to break out of the "tech-guy" box.

Target Deliverables and Desired Outcome of the Second 30-Day Action Plan

Following are guidelines to prepare deliverables for progress.

Guideline #1: IT-led team-level data gathering.

Your project manager has already assimilated the first round of top-level compliance initiatives in progress and anticipated for the next three years.

The data extraction, synthesis and assimilation processes require team orientation. In addition, seeking clarification, testing alternatives, negotiating and trading-off details against a set schedule and tight budgets requires business maturity and skill.

Action 1

Determine if the complexity and size of the task require incremental resources, in addition to the one compliance manager, to effectively manage the task. Does your organization's culture need the substantial stature of a senior executive to manage the process credibly?

Guideline #2: Detailed list of compliance deliverables.

You are starting off with a list of deliverables and requirements already validated with the business managers.

Action 2

Ensure that the deliverables' titles have content fleshed out. Include details of specific data elements, computations, procedures and formatting requirements.

This is the most tedious and critical part of this assessment. These findings turn into the deliverables specifications. While a 30-day window can be very aggressive for details compilation, deadlines and resources will determine your schedule.

Guideline #3: Break out and separately manage legal, referenced requirements.

Many regulations provide reference documents, such as Department of Defense guidelines, for document retention, accounting standards or other control processes. These may be procedural or content guidelines.

Action 3a

Manage compliance with these outside references separately to ensure there are no errors of omission and no possibilities of incorrect interpretations.

Action 3b

Ensure the credibility of the experts helping you interpret the guidelines. What are their credentials? Are they internal or external resources?

Action 3c

Document the process and obtain signoff of the appropriate department managers to develop an accurate and complete list of requirements. What are your access dynamics - facilitator, cost, lead-time confidentiality?

Guideline #4: Go the extra mile to deliver competitive advantage.

Beyond delivering compliance, what more can your IT team deliver to help the company's overall competitive edge? Keep the discussion at the business level with functional teams and managers. This is the differentiation between simple project-managed compliance activities versus leveraging the investment into strategic advantage. It is also the opportunity for you to emerge as a significant leader of enterprise initiatives versus the "techy" IT manager.

Action 4

Prepare brainstormed lists by key departments for top-10 actions that would increase their ability to make the company more competitive.

Culture of Trust

Building trust in a practical sense may be seen as a predictable pattern that minimizes risk and builds confidence in a relationship. In corporate settings, it means that at a minimum, you do not put others at risk without due diligence and an opportunity to present or defend their position. At best, you you guard others' positions and help them improve their deliverables and position.

Nurture a culture of trust with your team and other departments.

  1. Never critique anyone or any process before completing data gathering.
  2. If a breakdown or error is causing a customer problem or business loss, step forward to intercept it immediately and bring it to the attention of the correct contact.
  3. If you know of an issue that is likely to cause a problem with another manager or department's deliverable down the road, forewarn them so they may make appropriate arrangements. If your suggestions can help speed a resolution, make the recommendations.
  4. Deliver on your commitment every time. If you anticipate a problem with any aspect, quality, schedule or cost, alert the contact immediately. Share the corrective actions you are implementing and your probability of success. Confirm that this is acceptable.
  5. Always recognize and reward contributions that exemplify high quality, extraordinary effort or teamwork. Be generous in praise but maintain credibility by not going overboard. Be sure to document and communicate up, both in your organization and theirs, so your relationship can strengthen the inter-department relationships.
  6. Be cautious and skeptical about any secret dealings. It is better to stay out from the start than face ethical issues later. You have the responsibility to protect your mission and the company processes.
  7. Protect yourself with clear communications; ask clarifying questions until requirements are completely clear. Then, document the agreements. Living by the rules is no guarantee that others will do the same.

Guideline #5: Executive validation and sponsorship.

If the executives and functional managers do not support you, your efforts will yield no results beyond IT and regulatory factors. In fact, if your good intentions are seen as being out of your domain or stepping on others' toes, they will set off counterproductive turbulent winds.

Action 5a

Ensure that the top echelon of the company and functional managers are supportive of the fact-finding activities by having their managers lead the business requirement discussions and fact finding.

Action 5b

Validate everything with functional managers prior to sharing any - yes, any - information about their area with anyone outside the department.

Action 5c

Have the managers prioritize implementation of business initiatives developed by their team.

Action 5d

Ensure that sponsorship is in place by continued allocation of high-quality resources and priority contributions to the collaborative activities.

Guideline #6: Kick off your IT compliance task force.

You now have a sufficiently sound factual basis to kick off an IT infrastructure architecture team. Mission: estimate impact of business requirements on IT deliverables. Analysis: determine the gaps and bottlenecks starting from availability of data, its quality, meta tags and warehousing to compatibility with analytical tools, report generation in required format and media, time windows, validation alerts, event triggers and data availability. Output: logical data-flow diagrams, systems infrastructure flowchart, capacity and bottlenecks plotted on data-flow and systems charts.

Much of the systems information already exists in your organization, but this update will present the current state and serve as a launch pad for new initiatives. More granular information on data, host/servers, storage, networks, applications and tools will facilitate and expedite consideration of alternatives for improvement.

Consider saving your consulting dollars in this phase. Let your team connect the dots. This should be considered company-confidential data - protect circulation. When you are in the options-evaluation stage, there will be many places to engage your favorite consultants.

Action 6a

Assign a senior systems architect to lead an IT team to map compliance requirements and competitive advantage objectives on the data-flow charts and systems flowcharts.

Action 6b

Allow the architect to pick participants to assist in this task. It is a valuable activity; give it visibility and IT support.

Action 6c

Expect the task force to employ the project management process to document and manage meeting dynamics and objectives that ensure all inputs are captured, validated and reflected.

Guideline #7: Set expectations regarding compliance and beyond.

With several initiatives and new activities underway, use this work for positive impact. The IT team should be encouraged because they are helping the quality of compliance and the company on the whole. Senior executives can feel confident with competent teams and diligently organized management of the process. Business managers can see that they can reap benefits from required investments for compliance.

Action 7a

Communicate directly to IT teams and the department the new compliance effort and benefits beyond compliance for the company. Emphasize impact on IT mission, and encourage teams to understand business missions they support.

Action 7b

Secure agreements with senior executives to distribute the message to their divisions. Supply a draft they might modify and distribute.

At close of the second 30-day action plan, you have gained prominence in facilitating the advancement of strategic initiatives while meeting compliance initiatives. Recognizing supporters and skeptics will not be difficult. Some sub-teams will be functioning smoothly with support and sponsorship of functional managers; others will require closer attention. The IT team is evaluating the systems infrastructure.

Analysis has begun on gaps and desired opportunities for competitive advantage, and a foundation is laid for the third 30-day action plan. Next month, we will provide specific measurement criteria to test the progress of your teams. You will be able to reward your teams' progress and course-correct where necessary. Criteria will serve as a scorecard for elements of both regulatory compliance and competitiveness.

The key to success rests in competent execution. Execution, however, is dependent on cooperation fueled by clear communications and trust - from shared vision to shared rewards. Don't underestimate the power of trust.

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