Plan your moves

Plan your moves

When executing IT strategies, it's important for staff to be included in the planning, and that CIOs lead by example.

The Scenario You are running a tight ship in your IT department, with a well mapped out information technology strategy and a clear vision of where you want to go. A number of the business' high achievers, however, insist on doing things their own way, installing unauthorised applications and operating environments that are different to those of their colleagues, claiming that they know the best way to enable their work. How would you react?

Fab Zincone

IT manager, Kogarah Council

A well mapped out IT strategy is about as useful as a screen door on a submarine if there is no cohesion in the execution of day-to-day tasks and discipline in the way projects and solutions are implemented.

One of the key purposes of an IT strategy is to define a framework that will be used to achieve long-term IT business objectives. If this is not adhered to, the goals may never be completely realised. Consequently, high-performing IT staff must be encouraged to follow the IT guidelines and, in my experience, the easiest and most effective way to achieve this is to include them in the planning process.

By being inclusive in the creation or revision of the IT strategy, ownership and responsibility is naturally transferred to the very staff who will need to preserve the plan's integrity on a day-to-day basis. This way, "the" strategy becomes "our" strategy and eliminates the feeling that it is just an arbitrary set of standards serving mysterious purposes.

When the need arises for unauthorised applications or different operating environments, it's important to be able to listen and try to understand why this need has come about, and debate the pros and cons of all solutions with the relevant staff members. A reasonable approach includes the possibility that the strategy may need to be tweaked. However, an equally reasonable expectation would be that the overall plan be given priority and respected during the delivery of new solutions, and it is the chief information officer's job to convince top performers of this.

It is also important to leave the door open to possible IT strategy changes. Top-performing staff may be able to suggest improvements and should feel that their contributions are important and appreciated. If their suggestions prove to be impractical, care should be taken in explaining the inherent difficulties of their proposal, and a solution that complies with the IT strategy could be formulated together.

Whenever possible, business-specific knowledge should be imparted to top performers to help them understand the motivations behind IT strategy decisions. This also helps them develop skills useful in seeing the big picture, rather than just a one-project view.

As CIO or manager, it's critical to practice what you preach. Most people could be excused for losing respect for rules and structures if their manager didn't actively uphold and defend the rules and structures, too. There's no point being evangelical about licensing and then authorise the installation of unlicensed software when the budget runs out.

Lead by example and encourage the rest of the team to follow suit, mentoring high-performing staff whenever possible.

Joe Perricone

IT manager, The Spastic Centre

With a small to medium-sized business, in particular a charitable organisation such as ours, shoestrings are always tight. That means conflict in regards to what IT services the organisation is able to provide, and then IT is left with the task of managing expectations.

Conflict is less likely if the organisation's mission statement, standard operating procedures and consequences for any breach of conduct are communicated, and if performance is shared with employees at orientation. These may also need to be revisited regularly in staff meetings, so that the ideas introduced at induction become standard.

The above indicates a bureaucracy and, normally, the IT infrastructure and security does not allow this to happen. Working conditions often discourage employee performance and eventually drive away results-oriented people or encourage conflict with IT. Therefore, it is vital for IT to involve itself with the business practices and communicate any IT developments, past, present and future, regularly to the organisation as a whole.

In addition, if your mission statement includes words such as "passion", "excellence", "quality" and so on, it is difficult not to allow those users to perform and in turn encourage creative thinking. This means allowing for mistakes, coaching and mentoring, as well as initiating the introduction of the elements of a learning environment into the organisation.

This can lead to a win-win scenario.

In general terms, high performers want:

* World-class service.

* Changing the culture.

* Better processes for projects.

* To inject their ideas into the organisation.

What the organisation needs:

* Better standards and procedures.

* Support from management (lead by example).

What IT needs to do:

* Ensure clear communication, with a tool to evaluate its effectiveness.

* Focus on improving customer service - and provide evidence that this is occurring.

* Participate in business projects with the ability to discuss ideas in plain English.

* Prioritise projects.

* Improve reporting from IT with realistic parameters to measure the reporting and capture individualised custom requirements.

The high performer will need to be encouraged to do the same.

Often, high performers want to produce excellent results and you will have to exert little management energy to reap team successes. They also take responsibility for work performed and results achieved, but not for the total business or the way things are going.

Often these tasks may not be achievable, or resources may not be available - but who says that your strategic plan is cut in stone and circumstances can't change?

The high performers must:

* Be prepared to share the vision.

* Support process development.

* Participate in project planning.

* Participate in standards and policy implementation.

* Address training issues.

* Share the passion.

The high performers will:

* Promote lateral thinking.

* Improve quality assurance.

Allowing is acknowledging the idea that is put forward, and encouraging empowers staff to continue being creative and resourceful. This can lead to ownership of tasks and employees having a positive attitude, which sets them up for a successful outcome.

Individual customising for high performers allows for trialling of ideas and process that may then be streamlined for other users. This is often a cost-effective way of introducing new processes.

Energy and passion can become infectious and therefore provide fuel for advancement and change.

Maria Cabrera

Corporate IT manager, Bankstown

City Council

Analysis of the conundrum may indicate the issue is really one of perception. IT staff provide the service and the support for the technologies used in the business. If the model for IT service and support is decentralised, one may conclude that top-performing staff members are free to act as they wish, because the consequences (interruption to business) will affect their immediate area.

On the other hand, if the model is centralised, IT staff will bear the consequences and responsibility for any interruption, or be perceived as obstructive. Clearly, this places IT in a no-win situation, prompting the response: "I'd like to help you but I 'm stuck between a rock and a hard place."

At issue are the associated shifts of power that occur in organisations with respect to goal definition, contract design, co-ordination and control in service provision.

Looking for new ways to ensure IT service delivery and support, we find that the issue is accountability and overall organisational performance. Top business performers and IT staff need to account for effectiveness in service delivery that contributes to top organisational performance, be it by generating revenue or by responsible expenditure of public money.

It is possible to adopt a partnership approach through a negotiated service level agreement (SLA), where the top business performers indicate the business requirements and processes that lead to the achievement of goals, and the IT professional identifies, tests and provides the technical tools, to achieve together the outcomes stated, ensuring a reliable and 24/7 available IT environment.

The SLA can be enhanced by quality certification to ensure the reliability and availability required. In addition, the introduction of the ITIL framework as part of the service strategy will work to maintain a balance between systems of control and service delivery. Responsiveness to business demands can make the difference between success and failure. To achieve this, lateral thinking skills must be combined with expertise and business goals kept in mind - giving enough flexibility to allow access to specialist resources.

Control and service delivery can make good bedfellows in business, and change perceptions of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Integrating the two approaches can bring benefits in operating efficiencies and enhanced controls and safeguards.

As with any partnership, this requires constant communication; at times this will become passionate and may lead to one of the partners moving to the spare room for a spell. However, like in any functional or good partnership contributing to organisational effectiveness, it is clearly the best measure for an IT department and this is a journey better undertaken in partnership.

Fairfax Business Media

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