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The customer centric IT organisation

The customer centric IT organisation

How to build one? Be prepared to take on a range of roles - including evangelist, interpreter and futurist - according to panellists at a recent CIO roundtable. Here are some highlights from the discussion.

Around the table Nigel Bailey, group technology director, Fairfax Media

Beena Doolabh, client services manager, AUT University

Claire Govier, former CIO, Vodafone

Rhoda Phillippo, chief operations officer, HRL Morrison

Robin Johansen, group CIO, Beca

David Pollard, GM technology, Placemakers

Brett Hodgson, managing director, Unisys New Zealand

Graham McInnes, sales executive, Unisys New Zealand

Divina Paredes, editor, CIO New Zealand

Sim Ahmed, reporter, CIO, New Zealand

Setting the context

Nigel Bailey: The technology team is probably more privileged than any other team to understand the entire business holistically, they bring touch points from technology to all areas of the business than probably any other group. So if you get the right thinking and the right engagement, then it is a massively powerful pool of resource to be able to connect to the business needs and requirements.

Robin Johansen: I like to think of it as a spider web, as we’ve got multiple points of connections. We have an IT steering group which is like managing directors in a very high level discussion, then we’ve got what we call IT reps — all the individual sections of the business and we’ve got to communicate through them. Our IT reps are not IT people. They are actually nominated by the business groups. They are often people who have a bit of a bent towards technology, but they’re not technologists. They often have an understanding of the art of the possible and they will bring it to us and say, ‘We’ve got this problem; we might be able to do this. What do you think?’… You become the messenger from the people in the workplace through to the managing director saying, ‘Here are some of the things that could be possible and we should think about prioritising these in our programme of work’.

Beena Doolabh: What we’ve done the past year is working closely with our executive management team to get them to understand the value that we can bring, but also to get all of our deans together, [they]all have different things that they want their particular faculties to go and work together to ensure that we are supporting the university strategy or the research administration learning and teaching. It is not just about supporting those strategies but also about showing how we can enable the future growth of the university.

Rhoda Phillippo: It was forcing people to get out from the corner that IT is hidden in… and making them sit in the middle of the business and interacting — and calling them business technology [teams, not IT]; refusing to accept the phrase ‘the business’ and replacing it with ‘our business’.

Getting the foundations right

Claire Govier: In my experience [from a previous role in the banking industry], IT got permission to start really having much more strategic conversations when we were able to generate revenue, using information for event-based marketing campaigns, using business intelligence, delivering leads, identifying gaps in the customer holdings or customer needs. It was quite a shift…IT was no longer just seen as a cost part of the organisation but was seen as adding some value at the front.

Rhoda Phillippo: The minute that the strategy needs to be informed by business intelligence is the trigger that technology simply becomes a much more vital partner at the table.

David Pollard: We started focusing on how we spend less time keeping the lights running and even on risk management, so we could spend more time and effort on the value add and therefore we get invited to the table.

Robin Johansen: Communication is a vital part of all this. You have to have an elevator pitch that you can give at any time and your team can give instantly.

A lot of the things that we do to manage the portfolio is we build a graphic and we use a triangle and said this stuff, these layers down the bottom of the triangle, they are just what’s involved in the chassis that we have to have. And as we come up the triangle and the further you get towards the top is the nice to have stuff.

But you can’t do it before you put the pieces down below. That worked extremely well, so much so they kept on asking me to reinvent the graphic. So the graphic is much more powerful than the big sheet of paper, or the long speech.

IT in the frontline

Robin Johansen: I do find sometimes I’m in the role of the evangelist, that you’re not necessarily there to take orders. There have been many occasions where I’ve seen that the business was trying to go and saw an able technology and had to introduce that... You’ve got to stay on your side, keep your eye on how it is going and over time they start to understand what we are doing…There is a leadership element in here, you can’t be faint of heart. If you are sure of your understanding of the business and you’re sure of the technology, then you’ve got to put yourself on the line.

Nigel Bailey: Interpreter is a fair [description], of what our role is all about too — it is interpreting both what the business requirements are and getting the IT speak into a form that everyone can understand.

Measuring and celebrating success

Robin Johansen: We use the net performer approach for measuring how our internal customers evaluate us and we do it every month and we track it. It is fascinating to watch the trends and you can see that that does reflect what is really going on in our world. If you can’t measure, you can’t manage.

David Pollard: It is around having a benefits realisation methodology and providing benefits to us right from the business case stage, of focusing on what are the true benefits and making sure some of those are quantifiable.

Claire Govier: One of the challenges in a lot of organisations is that we often tend to spotlight and reward the fire fighters, not the people that prevented the fire in the first place. We’ve done a bit of a shift in my team in the last 12 months; we deliberately identified some heroes, because they stopped something going wrong to start with. That had an even bigger impact than I was expecting on the other team members, that suddenly the quiet people were getting noticed and rewarded and up on the stage in front of the organisation and getting recognised. It really shifted our culture.

Rhoda Phillippo: One of the things I think we do very poorly and not enough of, and we should all be advocates for, is putting our successes up for awards and making huge fusses about them… That external sharing of our successes is critical.

The new collaboration

David Pollard: As the CIO you’re not trying to get budget approval for your own projects; you’re actually working with your colleagues. Otherwise, you have to fight hard tooth and nail for these projects.

Claire Govier: We’ve had some success with integrated teams — embedding developers alongside business analysts, business product teams. Some of the benefits of this are starting to drive much more of a common language, a common understanding about the business problems and what we’re actually trying to resolve rather than assuming we know what it is.

Walking in the customers’ shoes

Beena Doolabh: We’ve just migrated from Novell to Microsoft Exchange and it was obviously a huge project because it touched every single staff member. Because we’ve got a limited number of resources and this project had quite a huge impact across the university we actually enlisted the help of everyone within each faculty. We had project champions who were actually going in and helping us spread the word, making sure that we understood the full impact of what we were doing, that we had taken into account how each staff member actually utilised their email and what changes we were making would impact them.

It was quite an involved project with a phased approach and what we did that worked really well, besides the project champions within each area, was that we actually had floor walkers.

We had them going before we migrated and the day after and we gave them pink t-shirts and we had people from the back end system administrators to senior managers with ICT to the project champions within the faculties, all walking around each unit to make sure that a staff member could go to their desk and start Monday morning and be able to access their email and be comfortable.

It was quite a big change for them and they were used to a certain way of doing things. That was really eye opening, especially for those ICT people…to actually appreciate what they [users] think of this project and how it actually impacted the day to day working of AUT.

Robin Johansen: I’m a big fan of the integrated project teams because that gives our folks in working with others from different disciplines different outcomes for the business and that has very important benefits in terms of relationships. We use floor walkers for every change we make.

We put them out as the university does ahead of time and on the day of the change they wear funny shirts and all that sort of stuff. They develop a much better appreciation of what the user is experiencing and these relationships also are long term, that people and the business get to know someone and they feel much more comfortable to come back and try an idea or run a question. I think that is a really important way of getting the team noticed.

Graeme McInnes: I remember a project I worked on years ago with Air New Zealand when they put in the check in kiosks. It was really interesting from the business perspective that they were really concerned, they had just started a low cost airline model and people were complaining from everything to the fact that they were getting plastic coffee cups on the planes to the lollies were going to disappear.

Now they were going to put these kiosks in that were going to take away the human aspect of dealing with check-in staff.

The way that we kind of turned that around was say, ‘No, it’s not, what it’s going to do is empower you as a passenger of Air New Zealand to make your own decisions about how and when you’re going to check in and where you’re going to sit.’… IT people need to get a little bit smarter about how we paint things to our business.

Rather than saying I’m going to save some money, say I’m going to empower our customers.

Unisys sponsored the CIO roundtable on ‘Creating a customer-oriented IT organisation’ in Auckland.

Photography by Grant Southam

Divina Paredes (@divinap) is editor of CIO New Zealand.

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