More and more companies rely on innovation as a central factor to successful business outcomes and the only reason to invest in its future. In today’s slow growth market, tougher global competition and commoditization, pursuing innovations more often is the only way to keep customers happy and their competitors at bay. One type of innovation that has been very instrumental to many businesses is through the use of technology – let’s call it technology innovation.
Others might think that technology innovation means always having the latest and greatest systems available in the market, or having the fastest computers and networks. This is a myopic view of technology innovation. Most large companies have now implemented a digitized platform using well-established ERP software, like SAP and Oracle. Further developments of those ERP platforms are available to those who have them as foundation systems. If those companies are in the same industry, there is a big chance that they will pursue the same business processes and best practices in order to offer similar product and services to the same group of customers. How do companies then differentiate?
The reality is that, it is no longer true that simply having the right digitized platform is a determinant of sustained success. It is how you use technology to transform your business capabilities in a fast and agile manner that gives companies competitive advantage. Success on these technology innovation initiatives relies on a person who has both technology and business knowledge to navigate and orchestrate shaping and execution of innovative technology and business ideas. Those individuals that fuel the cycle of technology innovations in the enterprise now have a name – Business Relationship Managers (BRMs). Companies’ focus on innovation has given momentum to the growing emergence of the BRM role and discipline. According to BRMI, Business Relationship Management (what BRMs do) is about “stimulating, surfacing and shaping business demand for a provider’s products and services, ensuring that the potential business value from those products and services is captured, optimized and communicated.”
Peter Lijnse, an IT management consultant, wrote the following in his blog entitled BRM is about innovation.
“IT Service Management people are often good at stating, ‘We need to talk to the business.’ But very few understand the business they work for.”
This is so true. One essential competency of a BRM is business IQ and that’s assuming the BRM is already a technology expert. Many BRMs tend to come from a supply organization, and therefore, they have IT background, but it is not always the case.
Innovation is relevant only when it creates value to the customer, hence the importance of customer insights as input to the innovation process. Another common misconception about innovation is that it means new things – new platform, new functionally, etc. Not all the time. Innovation can be about new business value, not necessarily new things. Hence, it is the important for BRMs to understand the business to which they provide services. BRMs are key facilitators of technology innovation and they fuel faster innovation cycles and better business outcomes.
If you’re not sure about security and reliability, it is better to play the safe side rather than succumb to the trend. You have to weigh in the risks versus the benefits. In the end, the decision to go BYOD or not should be driven by doing what’s best for the business.
I succumbed to the fad of the moment two years ago when I purchased my first tablet to “bring my own device” and see if it works for me. I used it at first for personal stuff — to read and write blog posts and books, organize schedule and to do lists, etc. Later on, I tried to utilize it on some work-related activities like taking notes in meetings, writing email, updating and showing documents and presentations. In the end, I found myself abandoning the experiment and chose instead to go back to my old dependable PC, company-issued Blackberry and, yes, old reliable pen and notebook. As far as mobile phones are concerned, of course I would prefer an iPhone, but my current issued Blackberry is adequate enough. So why bother? Why spend my own money for another phone?
I am not saying that BYOD does not work. But it did not apply to me, not for the work that I do, and not at this time. I am not sold on the current trend of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), at least not yet. I know that currently, companies tend to give in to the strong demand for BYOD. This demand usually comes from executives who want to use their tablets, smartphones and other devices for work.
Others may argue that they are more productive with smartphones and tablets of their choosing. I would not be surprised if people working in sales who are road warriors and executives who survive on emails, meetings, and phone calls find BYOD highly beneficial. Technology companies may also benefit from BYOD through encouraging innovation and productivity. To me, the decision driver should be if it makes sense for the business. It is not what employees want; it is what they need in order to best serve their customers.
BYOD Promised Benefits and Options
On the other hand, one of BYOD’s supposed benefits is the reduction of IT costs. That cost is mostly associated with the cost of mobile devices itself and the monthly recurring data charges. So if you are a company looking for cost reduction as leverage for going BYOD, make sure you make your employees seriously cover the expense.
Another alternative to BYOD is to provide employees with options, however limited. One example is to provide both IOS and Blackberry (without having to endorse either one). This will provide employees with choices without worrying about crafting agreements for security. The company is also in control of support for these devices because they know the platform as it is part of their service set. IT can also open dialogue with other business units on where mobile technology can be of value to the business process and develop mobile applications that are secure and integrated to the company’s platform.
Argument Against BYOD
The other reason why IT is not rushing to embrace BYOD is the challenge of managing support for the devices. While those devices are easy to use from the user standpoint, they’re not so easily integrated into corporate IT. It takes time to train IT personnel to learn the platform and be able to sufficiently support it. As it is, IT is already burdened with limited resources focused on critical projects and operations. This makes it harder to venture into new areas.
However, the biggest argument against BYOD is information security. There is a very real risk of loss of informational assets and vulnerability to expose company data to outside the company walls that could cause undue harm to its customers and stakeholders. It is obvious that company information is probably less secure if it is on a device that the businesd does not have exclusive control over. If you are a bank, a medical institution, a tech company etc., information security is something that you can’t compromise. If you are not sure about security and reliability, it is better to play it safe rather than succumb to the trend. You have to weigh the risks versus the benefits. In the end, the decision to go BYOD or not should be driven by doing what’s best for the business.
Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles
One of the most difficult problems organizations face today is silo mentality. This is when an organization’s culture dictates non-sharing of knowledge and information between departments or groups. Imaginary walls hinder departments from working together for a shared purpose. There is a certain level of distrust that exists between departments that hamper cooperation. Silo mentality reduces efficiency and can be a contributing factor to a failing corporate culture.
Internal Customer Service Breaks Silos
Silo mentality is a big NO for IT organizations. In fact, IT needs to be the exact opposite – ingrain a culture centered on the internal customer concept. What everyone in a company does can be reduced to one of two functions: “to serve the customer or someone who does” (W. Edwards Deming). IT organizations in firms rarely serve external customers directly; it means that most IT people only work to serve internal customers. If IT is unwilling or unable to satisfy their internal customers, the organization has very little chance to achieve value creating activities. Take pride in helping your internal customers; enjoy your role in sharing information, enabling processes and providing services that help others get their jobs done.
Photo courtesy of Rawich
Satisfying internal customers means every employee must be constantly aware that customer service is everyone’s business in IT. That constant awareness generates genuine teamwork among all departments in the IT organization: Operations, Projects Department, Support Groups, IT Infrastructure, Business Applications, Process Management, etc. This challenge emphasizes the importance of internal customer service as an IT organizational accountability. Excellent customer service doesn’t just happen because IT teams and individuals want it to, it has to mandated by IT leaders into a service model that includes specific responsibilities to perform and a standard service level to achieve.
Revisiting your IT value proposition periodically is an important exercise for IT managers. This will help you understand the tangible and intangible elements that define and differentiate your services portfolio. For internal customers, the IT Value Proposition is the collection of services they receive upon investing in IT capabilities and services. We have to understand that it includes more than just the core IT services (like equipments, applications, and infrastructure), and even more than just good quality— it also involves the softer elements that differentiate the total service offering such as: responsiveness, innovation, collaboration and commitment.
These are two perspectives representing the two words of the terminology “Value Proposition” — “Value” and “Proposition” – broken down into:
- Value (Internal Customer’s Perspective) = The benefits received by the business upon investment on IT capabilities and services.
- Proposition (IT’s Perspective as Service Provider) = The total offering to the business in exchange for their investment.
Defining your IT value proposition is the first step to clearly identify how your IT services portfolio are different and better than your competitors. If you run an IT organization that is purely composed of internal employees and do not think you don’t have competitors, you are wrong. There are many 3rd party IT services providers out there who can offer the same type of service that you have. Some, I could tell you, may even offer the same level of service at a better cost than you. Outsourcing companies that provide IT services have increased and matured over the years. Advancements in technology and development of new operating paradigms have made them more accessible and acceptable. They are your competitors and they are out to get your job. If you can’t define some unique feature or benefit that makes you stand out, your internal customers may default to the other option – lower cost. And believe me, you don’t want to be forced to play the low cost game — even when you win, you lose.
Photo courtesy of Pakorn.
Unfortunately, accountability in some IT organizations has become something that happens only when they are dealing with major problems. What you have is a working environment with members taking responsibility only when things go wrong. That is, when someone or some group has to own and be answerable for the consequences that impacted the business operations and later on work on reactive solutions. This kind of accountability seldom works because it is founded on the wrong principles.
Accountability in IT happens when IT team members or teams take responsibility in performing functions and work to achieve objectives. Here they take ownership of the services they provide to the business. This kind of accountability impacts both IT services delivery and ultimately, the company’s results. This kind of accountability makes things go right and far from being a punishment for failures. This kind of accountability develops the culture that produces people with the right attitude and managers that execute the right IT strategy. Highly accountable IT organizations have that commitment at all levels — from top management to IT operators that manage day-to-day functions.
IT Accountability in Operative Teams
In my current occupation, I am fortunate to lead a team of professionals with a strong sense of pride in what they do and with the goal of contributing to the organization. That sense of pride translates into a positive attitude and best practices that govern how we work to provide the best service to our internal customers. I once told my team that what I admired most about their work is their culture of shared responsibility. I like that each one has a sense of ownership of the team’s overall performance. They have the initiative to perform certain functions within the scope of their responsibility — very mindful that they are accountable for keeping business operations running efficiently. In our team, doing things above and beyond for the sake of customer service is daily routine. To me, that’s accountability in every sense of the word. The way we hold ourselves accountable defines the very nature of our working relationships, how we provide support to the business, how we work in projects, how we respond to problems and how we interact.
IT Accountability in Cost Management
Accountability in cost management practices is one of the most important areas where IT can really impact the business’ bottom-line. IT leaders need to start by responding to the following questions: What are my cost drivers? What business objective is driving spending? Is spending aligned to the business strategy? Is IT cost transparent and does business understand the value? Accountable IT confronts these tough questions together with their business counterparts. The practice of shifting the focus from IT cost to one of business value no longer works, especially during these tough economic times. It has to be a balance of both. IT needs to be accountable for the business cases that go with its project portfolio. I think that the biggest challenges in IT are those that deal with the intersection of both technology and business — how the cost of investment in certain technologies translates to business value. IT management needs to be at the forefront in taking responsibility for cost efficiency and value creation of their products and services. IT management needs to understand what drives IT cost. The basis for effective cost management is understanding cost structure and analyzing the costs flowing through that structure.
IT Accountability for Improved Service Delivery
Better accountability improves service delivery performance. But how does this work? IT accountability for improving IT services delivery is not simply a question of providing the technology needed to run its business or ensuring service availability. It is also about its service culture as well as better partnership and alignment with the business. In short, the challenge is as much about partnership and customer relationship as it is about providing the right IT business solutions. Service culture is one of the softer elements of the IT organization’s identity but it’s extremely important when you want your organization to have a strong sense of accountability in delivering excellent services. Essential to improving partnership with the business is a deeper understanding of the business strategy, objectives and the service levels that are required. How do we engage business leaders? What is the current and evolving business strategy of the company? How can IT be leveraged to gain competitive advantage? How do we manage ongoing innovation and process improvements? Does the business understand our capabilities to maximize our value? How do we communicate and manage perception about IT services? These are some of the difficult questions and challenges that must be addressed head on by IT leaders. There must be a structure used to allow learning from business engagement about strategies, core elements and innovations to improve service culture.
Although the concept of accountability is often reduced to ‘answerability’ or ‘enforceability’, a more complete understanding includes the actions that take place at every level and every internal customer touch points. Again, accountability does not only happen when things go wrong—accountability is taking ownership from the beginning. It is continuous rather than having an end point.
Photos courtesy of Salvatore Vuono and Michal Marcol.
We’ve all heard the saying that leading by example is one of the most powerful ways of leadership. But ironically, it’s often the most overlooked. “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” Gandhi once said.
The best way to create culture is to transmit culture. The most obvious ways to transmit culture is through teaching and coaching. IT managers and staff look up to their senior leaders for directions. IT leaders should not limit their engagement with their employees with discussions about operation work. They should engage their subordinates in other meaningful ways so as to help them develop themselves.
The best IT teams must have a culture of continuous learning. In IT organizations, developing employees is not optional, it is a necessity. Development is necessary to acquire the skills and learn the knowledge needed to keep up with new technology and processes in order to achieve business goals. Additionally, development programs in volatile and competitive organizations like IT are important in attracting and retaining employees.
Information Technology needs future-oriented leaders. Arguably, it is the most unpredictable and most innovative area of the company. If the CIO is not forward-looking, IT will most likely neither be as competitive nor at par with competitors who are relentlessly pursuing innovation. IT leaders are fascinated about the future. They are relentless about change and impatient for progress. CIOs should always be looking forward to new technology and practices that are developing, searching for new processes, tools and methodologies and experimenting how it will make sense in business in the future.
- How many types of developmental conversations occur in your organization?
- How can you create a culture of learning that goes beyond traditional classroom training?
- In what ways do your communication tools and practices help build your team’s skills for participating in conversations about goals, changes, and barriers they face?
Photo coutesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.
Imagine crashing your PC after having a virus issue. You need to call the IT helpdesk. You pick up the phone and call the 1-800 hotline number. Your expectations of the quality of IT’s response time is so low that you’ll settle for a day or two without a workstation. You imagine that perhaps you lost all your files and important documents in your computer. Service? Forget it. Your previous experiences with the IT helpdesk were terrible, if a service agent answers your call after 5 minutes waiting on call queue, it would be a small miracle.
Instead— you must be dreaming— your call gets picked up after two rings and a friendly service agent greets you with, “Good morning ,sir. My name is Kyra, how are you? How can I be of service to you today?” You are surprised but refreshed with the friendliness of the agent’s greeting. It’s unusual and has never been the case before — even during the last time you called them a month ago. You reply, “I’m good, thank you. I have a problem with my desktop. When I started it this morning, I got a blue screen after a couple of minutes. I don’t know what’s wrong. I think it might be a virus or something. It was working last Friday when I left.” The agent quickly and confidently replies, “Actually sir, we have a virus alert this morning that affected several users. We already sent a notice by email, and of course you didn’t receive it. We were about to call you but you beat us to that. We know the root cause of the problem for certain because of the new proactive monitoring tool that we recently implemented. Your desktop is one of those affected because you run one of our old desktop models with an older OS version on it. That made your computer more vulnerable to this new virus attack.” You are astonished with the level of information the service agent has already but still you have reservations as to whether this will impact the resolution time. Sure, she is friendly and she knows what’s going on but can she solve it?
Then you ask, “Then what should we do? It sounds like I won’t be able to use my computer today or for a couple of days perhaps?” Kyra replies confidently, “No sir, definitely not. We won’t allow that. As a matter of fact, our field-support team members are on their way to the offices of the users affected. They are making rounds as we speak. The person assigned to assist you is scheduled to arrive at 10:00 am. I think he’ll be there in minutes.”
Communication of the Service Deal
Kyra continues, “In the meantime, if you have a minute of your time to spare, I would be glad to tell you our new service mission statement. Do you have some time, sir?” You don’t have a workstation anyway so surely you have time and this wonderful service agent deserves a few extra minutes. You reply willingly, “Yes of course. I noticed a big difference in your over-all service today so far and I am pleasantly surprised. I’d be glad to hear about your new mission statement.” Kyra continued, “Thank you, sir. I am proud to say that our management and the whole IT organization came up with a common objective of improving our overall service delivery. Particularly, our technical support department which includes first level support agents, field-support service personnel and second level specialists, have the objective of providing our customers the fastest, high quality, friendly and effective IT support.”
“Sir, do you have any questions about our new mission?” You decide that it is good for IT to communicate its service offer and you feel special to be treated an important customer. You say, “No questions, Kyra, and congratulations. I’m really happy about your service. This is not what I expected. You guys really improved your service in such a short time. I’m impressed. Oh wait, I think the field support is here already. I have to go.” Kyra concludes, “Okay, sir, I will call you back after the service call to check if everything is fine. I know JB will take good care of you. Thank you and please don’t hesitate to call us again if you need anything.”
IT Field Support
Then as the field support agent comes into you office, he greets you warmly, “Good morning, sir. My name is John Bryan but you can call me JB. I am here to help you with your Desktop and I want to tell you about the two choices.” “Choices?”, you wonder incredulously. Now he is going to tell you the bad news that he needs to pull out your desktop for one day. Or maybe you get a loaner — something you’ve experienced before. At that time, you were given an incredibly old PC that was so slow you couldn’t even use it. You brace yourself for the bad news but instead he says.” I brought you a new computer. It’s a laptop. I need two hours to set it up fully with all your programs and files in it, or I can try fixing your virus problem for 30 minutes so you can work and then I can set up your new laptop for delivery next week. What do you think? ” Already impressed with the customer experience so far, you think that two hours doesn’t seem so bad. Plus, you are getting a new laptop when you were expecting at least a day of no computer. You reply, “OK, get on with the setup of the new one. I’ll wait here.” John Bryan says, “Good choice, sir. I’m sure you’ll be pleased with this new one. And finally sir, I can give you a general overview of the many capabilities of your new laptop and programs while we wait for the installations and file transfer to finish, or I could keep my mouth shut. What would you prefer?”
After everything was done, you realize that not only has the IT support services improved but you also just had a transforming experience. Talk about exceeding expectations!
I believe IT leaders have the power to embed a strong customer service culture through their influence…but culture embedding is not easy…organizations don’t create culture, it is an outcome of consistent behavior (demanded or influenced by leadership). If you provide the best customer service always, it becomes your culture. We try to make positive stories like these everyday… not always the case of course, what I am painting is the perfect world of IT support services, but this is what we aspire for.
Photo courtesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.
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