Adding Value

“Value” is a subject that seems to keep coming up. Whether discussing enterprise architecture or even information technology itself (IT’s chicken or egg problem on Tech Republic), demonstrating value is a recurrent theme. Even in a recent post discussing chargebacks, the value of in-house IT versus an external provider was an underlying concern.

The Tech Republic article captures the problem thusly:

The interesting aspect to these discussions is that people in IT management seem to fall into two camps in their proposed solution to the problem of IT/business alignment, resulting in a bit of a chicken or egg problem. One camp contends that IT needs to earn its place in strategic discussions, toiling away thanklessly until its contributions are recognized and the CIO receives a cordial invitation to the next board meeting. The other camp suggests that IT’s strategic potential should be recognized by the CEO, and that it is incumbent upon executive leadership to embrace IT and drive it toward executing corporate strategy.

What I find interesting about these arguments is that they assume too passive a role for IT leadership. In the first case, IT is the thankless soldier, hoping to one day be recognized by the General while heading into the gunfire, and in the second case, IT is the child athlete, sitting on the bench lamenting that the coach never calls him into the game.

That IT (or EA) should provide demonstrable value to an organization is a bit of a no-brainer. It’s also a fact of life that if you have to be your own advocate. Therefore, it seems like an affirmation of the geek stereotype to resent having to articulate the value you bring to the table (after all, you are in the best position to describe that value).

One argument is that the value of IT should be self-evident: no organization of any size would attempt to operate without IT any more than it would attempt to do without accounting. This is true, but trivially so. The value proposition is not whether the business needs a particular service, but whether you are the provider that best meets its needs.

The strategies listed in the Tech Republic article are a good start: “Get the utility aspect perfect, and then shut up about it”, “Talk the same language” and “State your case”. Network access and applications are now in the same category as telephone and lights: nobody will notice them unless they’re unavailable. Unfair, perhaps, but it’s little use trying to tout something that’s taken for granted. Shifting from being technology-centric to being business-centric, is likewise key. As I noted in another post, the business is not interested in your skill, they are interested in what your skill can do to improve their operation. Thinking in terms of the business will help both in choosing the right time to state your case and in what to say. There’s a difference between proposing a technology solution and proposing a business solution that happens to make use of technology.

Ultimately, it comes down to building and maintaining a relationship between the business and the IT infrastructure that supports it. In How CIOs Build Bridges With Other C-Level Execs on, Diane Frank quotes Robert Webb of Hilton Worldwide:

“In my world, the way you build trust is by making promises and keeping promises—repeatedly—and then there’s the opportunity to build a deeper relationship,” he says.

It is crucial to understand that the building of relationships is not a passive process. Rather, IT needs to contribute its own expertise. From the same article, there’s a passage about Zack Hicks, VP and CIO of Toyota Motor Sales USA:

For example, when Toyota was developing its Entune “connected vehicle” initiative, Hicks acknowledged the growing importance of telematics in the automotive industry but also pointed out the potential risks of what is essentially “a device driving down the road.” Hicks asked the other executives whether Toyota could handle the public outcry if proper security and privacy controls were not built into the in-car multimedia system.

The executives got the point. The result is that Toyota’s Entune initiative is moving ahead but Hicks is now fully involved in the project and is head of the senior management task force that’s ensuring the company is creating a safe and secure service.

This stands in stark contrast to an experience detailed in Run IT as a business — why that’s a train wreck waiting to happen on InfoWorld:

Adam Hartung, author of “Create Marketplace Disruption: How to Stay Ahead of the Competition,” tells the tale:

“I had an experience with the head of field services for a very large pharmaceutical company. He was working himself ragged, and complaining about insufficient budget to build all the Web applications his internal customers were asking for. So I suggested that instead of trying to deliver on ‘customer needs,’ why didn’t he go back to the business with a set of recommendations for how he thought he could deliver a superior set of solutions that would meet their needs in 2012 — and beyond.

“Instead of reacting to users, he should be their peer. Primarily, I asked him why he didn’t transition from building Web apps to instead creating a solution using cloud technology and true mobile devices like BlackBerrys, iPods, and emerging tablets. He could offer a better solution, at about a quarter of the cost.

“He told me he had never thought of dealing with the situation that way, but it sure made a lot more sense than letting his ‘customers’ run him ragged to deliver stuff with a short life.”

What Zack Hicks understood is that to “deliver on ‘customer needs'” means more than blindly saying “yes” to every request. Providing input based on the unique experience IT brings to the table (such as network security issues in the Toyota example) is the essence of adding value. A history of adding value is the best weapon in your arsenal when you need to show that your operation contributes to the success of the enterprise.

4 thoughts on “Adding Value

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