“...your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.”
That line, uttered by Jeff Goldblum’s character Dr. Ian Malcolm, was delivered in 1993’s Jurassic Park.
Who could have known at the time that the leather-clad pop icon would be so prophetic?
On any given day, it’s safe to assume a good chunk of your IT personnel are kept busy plowing through a backlog of one-off tasks requests to set up new software, replace old hardware, and put out a variety of fires.
Usually these requests will be organized in a platform that encourages turning them over as fast as possible to make room for the next request.
But what if “as fast as possible” actually isn’t the best way to handle these requests after all?
For example, one day a request to set up a certain piece of marketing software comes through. Easy enough. Someone from IT taps a few keys, maybe drops by the requester’s desk for a few minutes, closes the ticket, and moves on.
Then a very similar request comes through a week later. And two very similar requests the week after. Eventually, after several people in the IT department waste hours doing the same task over and over, you find out that yet another IT professional already spent tens of hours last month setting up state-of-the-art sales software that’s more than capable of handling the challenges marketing is looking to solve.
Getting stuck in the hamster wheel of answering one-off requests day in and day out is neither efficient nor effective on a larger scale.
This type of routine leaves a huge competitive advantage on the table—empowering IT requests to inform a greater business strategy.
Your IT department has a unique strategic advantage that’s too often overlooked. You can peer behind the curtain to gain insight into streamlining internal technologies, improving efficiency, pursuing digital transformation, and otherwise guiding business strategy as a whole.
So sure, your IT department could go on tending to the daily whims of your organization. But like the good doctor asked of the dinosaur cloners—should they?
By setting aside some time and energy for planning, one-off IT requests can be turned into a strategy that moves the needle on overarching business objectives. This is especially important considering the race toward digital transformation that scores of enterprises in nearly every industry have embarked upon even as you read this.
It won’t be easy to break out of the traditional view that many employees hold of the IT department as their own personal Geek Squad. Breaking from the model of servicing individual requests is likely to cause some uproar.
You’re not taking a leap of faith from the hamster wheel because you think individual employee’s requests aren’t important. Much to the contrary, it’s because you know how important those requests are to the success of your company.
As a leader in modern enterprise IT, you want to understand the context and frequency of requests in order to identify patterns. Only then can you enact a scalable strategy that allows you to solve company-wide needs and make company-changing technology decisions that place your business ahead of the curve.
How It Departments Can Turn One-Off Requests Into a Killer Strategy
According to PayPal CIO Brad Strock, a business-aligned IT strategy is more essential than ever in today’s digital-first environment. “Given the growing importance of technology in every business,” says Strock, “technology organizations must have clear strategic direction and priorities that are closely linked to the business strategy.”
If your company embraces that one of IT’s major roles is to make other departments more productive through digitalization, it should encourage you to do what it takes to make that a reality.
Having a solid roadmap is crucial to transforming repetitive one-off IT requests into vital elements of your overall business strategy.
Developing a Roadmap
Somewhere in your organization lurks a pocket-protected evil genius who laughs maniacally while squelching brilliant initiatives on a machine that’s inexplicably still running Windows 95.
At least, that’s the (rather) unfair image that “it’s been added to the backlog” conjures up for plenty of your colleagues.
One of the main reasons departments become at odds with each other is their lack of understanding about how the other operates. Employees may view IT as a task-oriented department and IT may feel frustrated by this misinterpretation.
But in the age of digital transformation, this inaccurate understanding of IT just won’t do. Not only does this dynamic create tension but it limits an important element in the success of any IT team—integrated teamwork.
Everyone in a company should understand that the IT department is not made up of individual taskmasters. It contains great technological strategists. Continuing to ignore this is simply not an option. Transparency is key from the top down.
One way to champion transparency across your organization is by starting right in your own department.
Translate your backlog into a digestible and as non-technical-as-possible roadmap that is available for all your team to see.
Each project you’re working on in the IT department should be accompanied by the business objective it supports, the reason your team has chosen to pursue it, and a changelog that helps others visual the progress you’re making.
Not only will an IT strategy roadmap abolish backlog nightmares; it will help your teammates realize the contributions IT makes to the success of the business as a whole and celebrate your wins with you.
Step 1: Guide and Align with Key Business Objectives and Decision Makers
It’s a common predicament inside companies—technology upgrades in one department drain the resources that another department desperately wanted to enact their own changes. It can be hard for an IT executive to strike the right balance.
Luckily, strategy-focused IT professionals do have some helpful touchpoints they can fall back on when making tough decisions: your organization’s key business objectives and decision makers.
Instead of basing resource allocation on whichever department manager corners you in the break room with the most influential argument, sticking firmly to your organization’s business strategy will help you make unbiased decisions as well as show solidarity with your leadership team.
One of your main organizational goals is revenue? That may mean your sales team’s request for a consumer-facing product order form is going to take precedence over HR’s workflow reengineering project – at least for now.
It’s also important that IT has the opportunity to help guide business strategy as needed.
Effective digitalization begins with a business strategy that is heavily informed by IT. Analytics, cloud services, digital marketing, security, and resource management are all key capabilities that modern enterprises are focusing on developing or upgrading. The IT department is uniquely qualified to provide guidance to the C-Suite on ramping up and executing these and other digital initiatives.
Forget fighting fires all day long. Your IT department should be examining ways to develop tools, systems, and information that guide and align with key revenue-boosting business objectives and decision makers.
Step 2: Understand Your Long Term Vision by Facing The Future Head-On
Failing to plan for the integration of mobile and connected devices, AI, and other digital advancements is simply planning to fail.
Given the pace of change and digital developments, a strategic IT roadmap would do well to plan about 12 to 18 months out. This level of planning is vital to keep your IT department focused on business objectives instead of falling into the easy cadance of responding to redundant requests.
The IT department is a major player in whether your company’s digital transformation is successful. In your roadmap, carefully consider technology trends on the horizon. For instance, early adopters are already incorporating the Internet of Things, AI, bot communication strategies, and more into their IT and business strategies.
To weather the digitalization that is sure to rock your industry at some point, you will need your team and technology capabilities to be flexible, scalable, and excited about change.
Step 3: Look at Past Trends to Inform Future Strategy
Just as with any other project, developing a successful roadmap means understanding your goals, their success metrics, and what resources you’ll need to arrive at them.
Which are the areas in which you you can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your business processes?
To figure this out, just look to your request platform. It’s chock full of all kinds of data on the challenges your colleagues face, the software they use or want to use, the speed bumps they run into on a regular basis, the tools they request to make their work more effective, and so on. It’s a goldmine of information that can help you build an effective strategy.
Understanding these patterns and enacting systems that break the bad ones, streamline the good ones, and preempt future challenges altogether is the ultimate goal of turning one-off IT requests into strategy.
Step 4: Define the People and the Technology You’ll Need to Take Action
Next, turn your gaze toward your own department to determine how you’ll achieve the feat of spinning oft-repeated IT requests into a powerful business strategy.
Identify gaps in your technology and systems. Outline exactly which functional capabilities must exist at your company to successfully support your objectives. Build plans to develop or acquire the software you need.
If you’re one of the 34 percent of IT leaders who identifies a lack of appropriate information-related skills as the biggest barrier keeping you from building a digital-first department, don’t hesitate to make skill-building and hiring one of your functional requirements.
“The plan is about understanding where to make investments and what capabilities the company will need;” says VP of Forrester Research Nigel Fenwick, “the people, partners, processes, and systems required to do that.”
Step 5: Secure Your Budget
Any good roadmap should clearly define what its goals will cost to complete.
The level of investment you ask your company to make will depend on the size and scope of your digital initiatives, how large your company is, your timeline, and your industry.
Be sure to map each project’s cost to its potential impact on business objectives. You’re asking for what’s likely a large sum of money—now is not the time to get shy about the awesome impact these initiatives will have on digital transformation and business objectives.
Don’t forget to account for those ongoing expenses that will support and help future proof your initiatives in the form of subscriptions, maintenance, and infrastructure.
The good news for your roadmap is the 2017 Gartner CIO Agenda Survey found that typical tech executives are already spending 18 percent of their budget on digitalization—with plans to increase spending to 28 percent in 2018.
Leaders in digital transformation are already devoting 34 percent of their budget to tech initiatives with plans to grow that by at least 10 percent in 2018.
Step 6: Be Realistic When Setting Your Timeline
You can’t do it all at once, so it’s critical you make it known that you don’t plan to.
Use what you learned earlier when you aligned your IT strategy with business objectives to prioritize each of the initiatives laid out in your roadmap.
The order in which you tackle IT projects should be based upon these priorities as well as available resources and the impact each will have upon the next. And don’t forget to account for any unique timing factors such as known busy seasons, hiring for key roles, and gaps in resources.
If there is a strong case for speeding up or rearranging the completion of any of initiatives in your roadmap, it’s a great time to request backup.
While new hires and consultant will add some upfront cost, they’re likely to pay off by empowering your organization to take on bigger digital transformation opportunities and introducing more people with a valuable digital-first mindset to your team.
Step 7: Govern by Committee
You may find it especially hard to get buy-in for and show the impact of your initiatives due to the specialized knowledge required to navigate the IT world.
This is where a steering committee can work in your favor.
Steering committees help guard against the whims of individuals, the single-mindedness of departments, and complicated office politics.
Yours should include some of the most skilled communicators from the IT department as well as key representatives from others. This ensures that neither your department nor any other gets preferential treatment.
The committee can use your own roadmap to track progress and achievements; giving them the opportunity to report back to the executive team and the organization at large on what IT is doing to improve digital adoption and contribute to business objectives.
Keeping Your Roadmap Relevant
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again—the only constant in our digital environment is change.
Unless your IT strategy roadmap is suspended in Jurassic-period amber, it can be changed. And it should be as your company grows, priorities shift, new DX opportunities arise, and competitors throw new challenges your way.
In almost every organization, an IT strategy should be revisited at least once a quarter. However, even more often wouldn’t hurt considering the impact IT initiatives have in digital-first companies.
“Every time IT makes a new choice it can have an impact [on the plan],” says Nigel Fenwick. “You have to reassess whether your assumptions remain valid. That’s something historically not a lot of companies have done.”
To avoid digital transformation is to go the way of the dinosaurs. And in the case of your IT roadmap, perfect is the enemy of done.
Turning your one-off IT requests into strategy is a key element in staying abreast of the exciting digital transformation industries all around the world are embarking upon. Get it started, get it in front of your team, and get after your goals like T. rex chasing down a Jeep full of doctors and one tortured game warden.
It’s what you should do.