IT As A Trusted Business Advisor

I was a panelist at CIOboston, a CIOsynergy event sponsored by Microsoft and Apprenda. My co-panelists were Steven Snyder, CIO at Massachusetts Convention Center Authority and Duane Dumont, VP IT at NxStage Medical. We were to take a ‘tell all’ position on where we saw IT headed. Ty Harmon of 2THEEDGE, ex-Gartner, was our able moderator. We hit the ground running with active audience participation from the start.

A key theme that evolved for our panel was that for IT to be effective, IT’s role must evolve to that of “trusted advisor” to the business – and not just in matters related to technology. We spoke about this not just being a top-down exercise. Today’s business engagement requires almost continuous engagement at multiple levels. This means that IT and the business have to learn new roles, to be balanced partners as in a game of tennis. Thus, IT’s infrastructure folks may need to learn business analysis skills. At Ipswitch, the foundation for our great relationship with the business is that IT has deep knowledge of business processes. This a great foundation for trust and leadership.

Flexibility is implied for the business/IT interface to work. Neither party can be married to a solution, whether it is a legacy system that ‘still works’ or a shiny new technology that ‘would be great to have’. This suggests that experimentation is a must. Stick in a toe, test the waters – and cut your losses when that is what is called for.

Critical for IT and business success is measurement. Pre-implementation, get a base line. Post implementation, and 6 months after being in production, measure again. Were the value premises correct? Is the hoped for ROI materializing? With measurement, improvement becomes possible.

Today’s world calls for IT’s business solutions to be integrated, flexible, with a rich user experience. This richness requires both business trust of IT, and for IT to have trusted vendors. Due diligence is key. For many solutions, such as the cloud, risk can be mitigated if you do the right homework. For someone in the audience who was concerned that the cloud cannot handle compliance, I pointed to MOVEit pioneering PCI compliance, and now heading towards HIPAA compliance, in our cloud offering. The fact is that threats of malware and theft, and needs for audit and compliance are universal. Picking the right vendor for either online or on-premise software and understanding the risks is key.

There was some discussion of data, with all agreeing that data ownership must reside with the business, but IT has to be the consistent, universal provider of this data. In fact, it I not data that is the real deliverable – it is time to insight. IT has a key role to play as an analytics enabler. But almost as important, IT has to ensure that there is a common vernacular around data. An understood glossary that helps people talk the same language, understand data types, quality, constraints and sources is essential to delivering value.

If IT is to a trusted partner to the business, what should the business commitment to IT be? Steve Snyder has a rule that has worked for him. If a key business stake-holder does not show up for two consecutive project meetings, pull the plug on the project! It means that the project is not important enough.

There was a lot of conversation with the audience regarding the cloud. Two major themes evolved for both IT and the business to understand. Microsoft, in particular, emphasized these:

  • If you do not have a cloud strategy you will be at a competitive disadvantage.
  • Cloud policy should be a brokerage exercise — a determination of what should go where. Just because something can go to the cloud, doesn’t mean it should.

Clearly, for IT to become a trusted business partner, we need to educate ourselves – and then help educate the business. Our future is the same one.