IT professionals have long felt that businesses do not understand technology and businesses have long felt that IT does not deliver at the speed of business. Let’s look at that for a minute. We have two teams who do not trust or understand each other – this will never equal success. A project without a business sponsor and an IT team that does not understand the business will also never equate to success. I am not saying all business projects are failures, I am simply stating that with a different approach there can be understanding. We all want success, correct?
In recent years I took an IT management position at a very successful airline. The same issues I had seen over the years in other organizations also existed at this airline. The business was too busy to fully engage in a project and the IT department only went skin deep to understand the business drivers and value it could bring to the table. It’s important to know that changes like the ones outlined in this article do not happen overnight. There was a lot of trial and error involved, but change CAN and WILL happen when both parties work toward common goals.
New Direction Support
This new direction started with the hire of an applications manager, one that was supported by executive management as well as the leaders in the maintenance and IT departments. Prior to hiring, we worked out the reporting structure, expectations, commitment, business objectives and value so our new hire could hit the ground running.
The person we choose as the applications manager had no aviation background, but he was very sharp and had a hands-on attitude. After IT had filtered through the candidates, this person interviewed with the business units he was responsible for, in this case the maintenance department. The head of the department and key persons on his staff were tasked with interviewing the candidate to ensure he was a great fit.
The second week after the applications manager started he and I took a road trip to all three maintenance bases. He got a firsthand understanding of what issues and opportunities were out in the field. The following week he sat in a training class with newly hired mechanics. The third week he attended ERP training on the system running the department. Lastly, his office was not located in the IT department; instead, he sat in the maintenance building where he was an integral piece to their everyday business and workflow. Because one person can’t do everything, an analyst was also hired. The analyst also sat down in the maintenance building and received the same onboarding and training as the applications manager. The company’s portal administrator and business intelligence analyst also spent one to two days per week in the maintenance building as well.
At this point the team was set in motion. We set up an afternoon workshop to kick off a strategy for the maintenance department, weighting the initiatives and prioritizing the work. This sent out the first message that we were committed to delivering but we couldn’t do it without having team commitment from both sides.
The success was outstanding. The maintenance department went from being the biggest opponent of technology to being the new technology evangelists for the company. They were the first department to go paperless. They crossed the chasm from submitting “IT projects” to working on “business projects”. They were now speaking our language and we could speak theirs. The IT team was being invited to socials and lunches, new friendships were formed and, best of all, projects were much more successful. When you think about it, like any relationship, it took time to build trust and respect. Because of the great success with the maintenance department, an IT liaison for each department has been added. These liaisons are the focal points that bridge the gap between the business and IT.
In many cases companies do not want to invest the time to address these types of issues. You’ll definitely want to reconsider; this was an investment that will pay out for years to come. But, like any good investment, it requires caring and feeding. It is not a “set it and forget it” type of transaction. This mindset and approach is not tied to a specific business model or type of company, it is based on common sense and basic relationship building. With a little effort from all of the parties involved, your IT department and your business units can learn to work together seamlessly and your company will enjoy greater project success as a result.