Perspective changes everything. A friend of mine was travelling last winter in Wisconsin with a business associate from Louisiana. They were headed north on 117 and had just turned by Shawano Lake in Cecil when the guy from Louisiana looked at my friend and said, “Your poor people sure do drive nice trucks!”
Somewhat bewildered my friend replied, “What?”
The guy from Louisiana looked back and pointed, “All those people living in those tiny shacks seem to have beautiful four wheel drive trucks!?”
My friend began to laugh and then enlightened his business associate on the joys of ice fishing.
It’s the same for me when someone asks, “What do you do for a living?” Whether you picture me as the guy from Wisconsin or the guy from Louisiana, perspective plays an important role in what we think about when we talk about technology.
So what should your I.T. department be doing for your company? Let me share some of my perspective. These days, I.T. departments have two separate purposes, tactical and strategic.
The tactical component takes care of the things that just have to work. There are certain functions computers perform that are required to carry out our day to day business. We need our email and our Internet to communicate with the rest of the business world. Depending on our function, we need our accounting, word processor, CAD and spreadsheet programs. The tactical components can be defined as any technology you have been using in your business that you have come to rely on just to function.
The part of the I.T. department tasked with the tactical items is concerned primarily with making sure that the systems are operational and available. They will have plans for keeping the systems going under various failure scenarios. Performance of these departments is measured in balancing the 9’s (99.9% uptime, 99.99% uptime, 99.999% uptime) with the lowest cost of providing that service level.
The second goal of an I.T. department should be strategic. The strategic component of I.T. is the part that spills over into the business analyst function. Strategic I.T. is when technology is used in new ways by your business to improve something. Note that strategic I.T. does not mean necessarily that the technology is new, but that your company is using it in new ways. Performance of strategic I.T. is measured in terms of ROI (Return on Investment), new market size, and/or customer satisfaction.
Here are some examples of strategic I.T. projects from our own experience.
· Efficiency – sometimes you can gain huge efficiencies by integrating your process with that of your largest customers. One of our clients did just that and doubled their business without adding any additional office staff. The solution involved creating information conduits to share data between both company’s systems. Customer orders are converted automatically to vendor jobs which are seamlessly added to machine center schedules. Information about product schedules, shipping manifests, invoicing and even payments are available to both the customer and vendor which reduces waste for both. The strategic part is the creation of a symbiotic system that improves communication and profitability for both the vendor and customer.
· New Markets – sometimes new business is staring you right in the face. For years, one of our clients had been using process equipment that collected detailed information as their products were being created. A new interface allowed them to search on any combination of those attributes and provide their customers with a product mix that no one else in the industry was doing. The strategic part of this project was using existing data in new ways.
· Service Differentiation – improve your customer service people’s access to information and improve your customer service. Creating a mobile solution gave our client’s field staff the ability to see job history and equipment details. Now they answer customer questions better, follow up on previous customer concerns and generally make their customers glad to be customers. The strategic part is using newer technologies to get the information you already have to the people who need it most, wherever they are.
Perspective changes everything. It changes ice fishermen into poor people with nice trucks and technology geeks into purveyors of competitive advantage. In either case, it is not the actual people that change, but merely the perceived reality based on the viewers perspective. So what would you like your I.T. department to be doing for your company? The answer may lie in your perspective of what I.T. can do.