Do you want to hear a shocking statistic? According to Forrester Research, 70% of the companies listed on the Fortune 1,000 list ten years ago have now vanished. The reason: an inability to adapt to change.
As modern technology evolves, we’re seeing a shift in the business world. In the age of the web, business agility trumps size. More and more, the ability to adapt to change is critical to a company’s success.
From a technology perspective, this means that IT departments must evolve. Keeping the lights on is no longer good enough. These days, IT must innovate. They must move quickly. They must drive business forward.
However, this is impossible with slow or inefficient IT departments. The question is…how can IT departments become more efficient? What’s needed to create a high-performance IT department that actually pushes the business forward?
1. Get on the same page
As mentioned in this article on IT/business alignment stumbling blocks, communication lies at the foundation of many business problems. If the business and IT department aren’t on the same page, or don’t communicate constantly, IT cannot possibly drive business.
“To ensure the IT department runs as efficiently as possible, they must be in lockstep with the business’s goals and needs,” says Jed Pillion, Managing Director of IT at The Execu|Search Group. “If the department is not educated on the firm’s strategy it will be impossible for them to efficiently deliver solutions.”
How can IT and business get on the same page? While improving communication and alignment isn’t a simple fix, JJ DiGeronimo, a Technology Executive, Author, Entrepreneur & STEM Advocate, shares a great tip that’s sure to help: Create working groups outside of IT.
“Create working groups that include key teams outside of IT – such as legal, finance, procurement and marketing,” she says. “This often streamlines project completion and buy-in.”
2. Adopt a startup mentality
“Approach everything with a startup mentality,” says J Wolfgang Goerlich, VP of Consulting Services for VioPoint. “By that, I mean, seek to answer the following two questions: what drives value and what keeps the light on. I suggest adopting a minimum viable strategy for keeping the lights on. By satisfying the requirements without spending too much time, you make space to deliver value. Spend most of your time and effort on what really matters, what really drives value, what really makes a difference. In doing so, you can deliver outstanding results to your manager, your stakeholders, and your organization.”
The right mindset is absolutely essential for high-performing IT departments. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day routine, and lose sight of the value-driving tasks. It’s good practice to regularly stop and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this task?” If the answer is, “because that’s what we’ve always done,” it’s time to re-evaluate.
3. Keep your focus on the right place (Minimize the cool factor)
“Minimize the cool factor–many IT people want to invest in cool new tech,” explains DiGeronimo. “Be sure to buy technology that aligns your company’s needs and skills.”
In the technology field, it’s easy to get caught up with the latest and greatest device or software. Unfortunately, this often leads to backwards problem-solving. We discover some shiny new technology and look for problems it can address. This approach often leads to failure. Instead, start with the company’s most pressing problems, and seek out technology to fix them. While this approach may not always include the latest and greatest tech, it will vastly improve your chances of success.
4. Keep learning
“We are seeing more and more of our subscribers broaden their scope of study beyond their own specialties,” says Aaron Skonnard, CEO of Pluralsight. “For instance, those who used to stick to traditional IT courses are now delving into tangential topics such as app development, project management and cloud-based tech. The modern technology professional can’t afford to live in a silo and needs to not only understand numerous technologies, but how to apply them to the business needs.”
It’s almost become a requirement for working in IT: You must constantly learn new skills. If your skills (or your IT staff’s skills) are stuck in the past, how can you possibly push the business forward? How can you innovate when your own skills are stagnating? Short answer: You can’t.
5. Treat your staff well
“Simply put, the success of your IT department depends on the commitment of your crew,” explains Joe Latrell, a former IT Leader and current President of Photos to Space. “You get great commitment by treating your staff like gold. When they needed time off, I gave it to them (within reason) because I knew we were going to be pulling some late nights getting servers moved or upgraded. There were times when we worked 24 hours straight to get problems resolved so the businesses could stay in business.”
This reminds me of a great quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.” It’s an important point that often gets lost in the shuffle. Some leaders take an “I’m in charge, so you’ll do as I say” approach. While it might deliver short-term results, it doesn’t foster long-term motivation…and certainly doesn’t create a high-performing staff.
6. Put the right tools in place
“The demands upon IT organizations to become agile innovation centers is being driven by a combination of technology shifts like cloud computing, SDNs, and mobile apps, among others,” says Jonathan Crane, CCO of IPSoft. “And yet, most enterprise IT departments are shackled to legacy system management by budgetary and personnel constraints. Looking at CIOs’ priorities, topping the chart is their need to dedicate more resources to funding new research and development projects in support of their business units. By moving resources and human engineers away from mundane, automatable tasks through the use of autonomics, legacy system management constraints can be greatly reduced freeing up human capital and budget dollars to invest in adopting innovative and strategic technologies to underpin new business initiatives.”
He’s absolutely right. In many companies, existing legacy systems and inefficient tools keep the IT department from successfully supporting the business. When they spend most of their time keeping their outdated system up and running, there’s little time to move forward.
Tyler Wassell, Software Development Manager at mrc seconds this point: “More often than not, IT groups are not able to allocate resources to support new business initiatives,” he says. “Most IT resources are used to maintain and support existing legacy systems. If the IT group is truly going to push the business forward, they must put the tools in place that speed up development and application delivery to business units.”
So, what do you think? Would you add anything to this list? Are there any other keys to creating a high-performing IT department? If so, I’d love to hear them in the comments.