IT is a Strategic Weapon: TBM Part 1

Technology leaders must be willing to tackle a broad set of work in culture, language, transparency, technology trends, operational blocking and tackling, and present a vision. Failure to address each of these categories puts their company at risk.

A photo of a sunset or sunrise in the background and a viewing scope in the foreground
Photo by Matt Noble on Unsplash

Change is afoot.

In a twelve part series I'm going to discuss transforming IT into a catalyst for driving business improvements. I will share my views and approach to this transformation. Topics I will cover include: the IT tribe I have been building, the steps I'm taking to change culture, and why a transparent financial model of IT is essential.

It all starts with a simple premise that IT is a strategic weapon. One that should be leveraged for competitive advantage, efficiency, and enable product and service excellence. Technology is not a "means to an end", it is an essential part of producing, delivering, and, consuming products and services. If you produce or consume digital content, IT is both on the critical path and the service offering.

Photo Credits: Chad Horwedel
Photo Credits: Chad Horwedel

In 1998 I had the opportunity to fly in this B-17, Aluminum Overcast, one of only 12 air worthy B-17's left in the world. I've been using this photo and caption in presentations to my staff as a symbol of building a strategic weapon for the past 18 months.

The later half of the 20th century brought about the Digital Revolution with the proliferation of the personal computer, the Internet, mobile devices, and cloud computing. Today we live in an economy dominated by digital information and automation. Every industry is being shaped by the Information Age, and every Information Technology (IT) shop needs to update their approach to managing in this era. To stay competitive, progressive thinking technology leaders are adjusting their approach to IT, managing technology like a business versus operating like a traditional cost center.

To be successful in this modern age, an IT leader will need to address:

  • Culture: What does this digital shift mean to the IT staff? How do the other business units interact with IT when it is run as a business unit? How do you garner executive support? How do you address the stereotypical cost center connotation? What happens to your own job?

  • Language: IT leaders need to talk less about technology and more about business. You must understand and speak in financial terms. You need to learn about product management. You need to interact face-to-face with the real customers (the one's who are sending money to your company, not other internal business units).

  • Transparency: Be open about poor services, deficiencies in procedures, outages and problems to address. Talk about what you are doing to fix these things. Share operating costs. Share operating metrics.

  • Technology Trends: What are competitors doing? What is your cloud strategy? [Don't have one? I bet your internal consumers of IT do — it might be wrong, but they have thoughts here if you don't]. What are the disruptive technologies you should be researching?

  • Blocking and Tackling: To be allowed to be transformative, you must get the blocking and tackling covered. If you have chronic outages, capacity shortages, missing alarms, and too many human mistakes — you must address these as priority one. A foundation of operational excellence is required to act as a catalyst for change to the rest of the company. Ignoring these issues will allow misdirection to derail your efforts.

  • Vision: When I ask leaders about their IT roadmap the answers generally fall into two broad categories:

    1. No roadmaps exists for our products or services from the GMs and business units, so IT is primarily in reactive mode
    2. IT goals are all related to supporting the plans of others, a subservient role in the organization

In my view, technology leaders who are unwilling or fail to address these categories, jeopardize their positions and their companies and will be overtaken by companies who's IT leadership are champions for this modern approach to IT.

In the next post I'll discuss Technology Business Management, a mindset for formalizing the approach to running Information Technology like a business. I hope you'll join me for next week's installment.