Promise, Practice, People and Performance- Four Key Components of IT Branding (Branding IT Organizations Part 4)

IT branding is the process of building and improving the IT brand identity. This identity is shared by employees and groups that control the way they interact with each other, with stakeholders and with internal customers. It is a powerful tool in transforming the IT group into people who perform calculated, yet seemingly spontaneous, service delivery in the best interests of its internal customers. 

This is part four of my series on IT branding. We have covered several perspectives on IT branding in the first three articles of this series. Part 1 talked about branding in general and how IT branding is linked to the Process Culture Maturity. In part two, the concept of IT branding was defined and how it was related to IT team culture. Part three talked about high quality IT service delivery as the best brand identity. 

This post will delve more into the subject of IT branding, understand its key components and examine how it shapes the IT organization. The four key components of the IT brand, the four Ps — Promise, Practice, People and Performance, will be defined. These can be seen in the diagram below: 

Promise 

One establishes the IT brand by building trust in a promise about what the company does, what it stands for, what its vision is, and what added business value it can provide the internal customers and stakeholders. This is represented through the established IT vision and mission statement, customer value proposition and service offers. This promise must be developed by IT top management and its sponsors through extensive analysis of internal and external environment, interviews, and research. The Promise component of the IT branding process is achieved through vital scoping, visioning and strategic planning.   

Practice 

After writing the organization’s promise, the next step is to build the engine that will enable service delivery. This is the IT Practice – comprised of IT operating model, mode of service delivery and various other methodologies. It ensures that IT teams achieve optimum results and performance. It will define the discipline in which IT systems, operations, projects and evolution will be managed. However, this discipline should not be constrained to a particular use of a vendor’s product; rather, it should focus on providing a framework to structure IT related activities and the interaction of IT personnel with business customers and users. 

People 

The most important element of the IT brand is the People component. Everyone in IT must be in sync. For new team members, this is achieved through an adequate on-boarding process. For existing employees, ongoing organizational development and engagement initiatives will work. Communication is critical in this aspect. Top management must fully engage employees. It starts by communicating the Promise (IT mission and vision, strategy) and Practice (IT operating model and methodologies).  Each team member must know his role and value in the overall service delivery system. It is important to note that the internal perception of the IT brand are affected by the IT team members’ behavior, and that one must therefore shape the IT team culture in ways that encourage IT brand-committed actions on the part of all IT employees. 

Performance 

As discussed in part three of my articles on IT branding—what is central to IT branding is the relentless pursuit of quality IT services. Organizations build its IT brand by living up to its promise. IT teams strengthen its IT brand by relentlessly improving its IT brand promise. The surest way to do this is improving performance. IT managers must define key performance indicators to monitor performance against objectives. Measuring the success of IT branding initiatives is challenging; however, it is essential that every effort be made to measure results versus targets set forth. 

A Final Note: 

One’s perception of the IT service is often reduced to a phone conversation with a helpdesk service agent. IT branding depends on each and every individual working in the IT organization—the “People”—from the top, the CIO to middle IT managers then to the frontline helpdesk service agents. It is important that all IT personnel are in sync because the service brand is all about them. It is strengthened by the established “Promise” and “Practices” that enables IT organization to deliver with high “Performance”.

Facets of High Quality IT Services (Branding IT Organization Part 3)

In Part 1 of this series I talked about branding in general and how IT branding is linked to the Process Culture maturity of an IT organization. In Part 2, I listed the different rewards IT organizations can derive directly or indirectly from having a strong IT brand. I also defined the concept of IT Brand Identity and IT Branding. 

  • IT Brand Identity marks the tangible representation of your IT brand. This representation can be in different forms – your mission and vision, your service offers, culture and style.
  • IT Branding is the process of building and improving IT brand identity.  This identity or culture is shared by employees and groups that control the way you interact with each other and with stakeholders outside of t he company.  

I derived the idea of associating quality of IT service delivery and IT branding from the opinion shared to me by William Gearhart. Bill is the VP of Information Technology of the organization I work with. Bill’s comment was as follows: 

“Critical to the success of any company or its branding is the business model and the success of delivering it hourly, daily, weekly, etc. You can brand any identity but it is the delivery and focus of the team that moves you up the ladder of respect within an organization.” 

Bill goes on to say: 

“I believe you establish the partnership and respect, apply your brand and then focus on assuring your service delivery and processes move forward with the organization(s) you are supporting and enabling.” 

The relentless pursuit of high quality IT services is central to IT branding. It is the factory that creates meaningful stories in the hearts and minds of our internal customers. These stories ultimately shape the perception of your internal customers – thus, strengthening your IT brand identity. High quality IT service is the best IT brand identity. For a service organization like IT, the surest way to create trust is consistency in the delivery of services. 

Facets of Quality in IT Services 

Quality is the best problem solver. IT organizations that consciously pursue quality in all its services take a proactive approach in problem management. This pursuit guides IT organizations on which problems to solve first and which opportunity to seize. Problem management practices are essential in this effort. First of all, problem management should be proactive. It should be focused on studying trends in order to reduce recurring issues and ensure long-term solutions by addressing root causes. Reducing IT incidents directly helps in improving customer or end-user experience in using IT services.   

Quality is the best customer relationship. High quality in IT services is the silent salesman. Consistency in IT service delivery will create good perceptions and a positive experience for internal customers. I think that a high level of quality enables IT to function as a business partner of its customers. Somehow it is the same as selling a product in the market. No matter how much you spend in advertising and promotions, if the product is questionable and does not have good quality, it will be difficult to sell. It is important for IT to focus on delivering high quality products and services right the first time. This is done through effective change management and high quality implementations. 

Quality is your best identity. IT branding and quality of IT services delivery are two sides of the same coin, in that high quality IT services creates a good IT brand identity. The level of quality in your company’s IT services determines how your organization is perceived by your partners and internal customers. It is important for IT managers to understand that the organization establishes its brand by building trust. The best way to create trust is consistency in providing high quality services.   

A Final Note: 

One can define quality in many different ways depending on the point of view. However, quality in the perspective of a service organization such as IT is defined entirely by the customers. The customers’ perception is reality. Quality is based on the customer’s assessment of his or her entire customer experience which is the consolidated evaluation of the organization’s different touch points. Again, I believe that the persistent pursuit of high quality IT services is central to IT branding. High quality IT service is the best IT brand identity. For a service organization like IT, the surest way to create trust is consistency in the delivery of services.

Photo courtesy of  www.zebratranslations.co.uk

IT Team Culture and Branding (Branding IT Organization Part II)

Branding IT Organization Part I talked about branding in general and how IT branding is linked to the Process Culture maturity of an IT organization. This time, I will further define the concept of IT branding and how it relates to team culture. Jose Rivas, a colleague of mine, posted this as a comment in my last article:

 

“Branding is something that everyone in IT does every day– it is how the user community perceives you. I believe that branding is a reflection of the culture that drives the IT organization, or any other group for that matter. Purposely branding IT takes a lot of thought and effort. It requires a clear vision, effective communications within as well as outside IT, strong executive sponsorship and a well-motivated organization.” 

I couldn’t agree more with this opinion of Jose Rivas on IT branding as a reflection of the team’s culture. Branding has a lot to do with human perspective and the forces that are created in social and organizational interactions. It has a lot to do with your group’s identity and culture.

IT Brand Identity and IT Branding

IT Brand Identity marks the tangible representation of your IT brand. This representation can be in different forms – your mission and vision, your service offers, culture and style. It is what you stand for. IT brand identify is the set of values that exists in your customers and employees’ mind as a result of interaction and associations with your IT organization.

IT Branding is the process of building and improving IT brand identity.  This identity or culture is shared by employees and groups that control the way you interact with each other and with stakeholders outside of t he company. It is the value you create that gets reinforced every time your internal customers interact with anyone in your team and any facet of your service.

Improving your IT brand: Why bother?

Below are just some of the rewards IT organizations can derive directly or indirectly from having a strong IT brand.

  • IT will run more efficient operations because they align all decisions with the mission, vision and values that underpin their promise.
  • Internal customers (business) are willing to invest more in IT because they believe it will deliver outstanding benefits.
  • Quality of IT services concretes internal customer loyalty.
  • Business supports IT projects because they know that IT creates value in the company.  
  • It is easier for IT to communicate new service offers.
  • IT will find it easier to attract and retain good employees because applicants believe in the quality of the workplace based on the advance knowledge of the caliber of the brand.
  • IT will increase its value and management support

The bottom line for IT managers and employees is that if they do not become conscious of the team culture in which they are embedded – those cultures will control them. This process is complex and multifaceted. Every IT team must learn how to become a team. They have to find their identity and use it to their advantage. 

Photo courtesy of advanceweb.com.

Branding IT Organizations

Recently, I was involved with the redesign of a newsletter for our organization. I have always believed that communication is an integral part of any service organization – including IT. What we communicate is our story and our promise. This creates a perception to our internal customer about who we are and what we are about. At first glance, IT organizations and branding seem to be mutually exclusive.  However, I disagree. 

Branding in General

First, let’s talk about branding in general. Many professionals confuse the term “branding” as synonymous to “advertising”, “communications”, and “marketing”. They use it interchangeably. This confusion is costing companies a lot of money. Companies that market their products or services without first establishing their brand identities are not likely to achieve their objectives. Branding is about the customer’s perception of your product. It is the image of your products and services in relation to your organization.

Now how about branding in an IT perspective? This goes in line with the general concept of branding. IT branding is finding and knowing your IT organization’s identity. In many small- to medium-sized companies, internal customers only interact with IT when they have computer and IT application issues. This shapes their understanding and perception of the kind of IT organization they have. Branding for these IT organizations is getting their users to think that they are the sole solution to their IT-related problems. Once your IT is perceived as “only”, there is no place else to call.

How to Grow your IT Brand

The IT organization’s brand grows as the company expands. The IT organization’s brand evolves as the enterprise matures through the different levels of Process Culture maturity. Take time to revisit the article that I posted last year on Process Culture. As your organization’s Process Culture evolves and IT takes on a more important role, your IT brand grows with it. The IT organization’s identity is linked to this Process Culture maturity. 

Just like the most popular ones in the market today—Apple, Coke, Marlboro, Google, the business has to strive to grow and improve its IT organization’s brand. It is important that the IT organization must have a good understanding of the internal customer segments in order to position its services appropriately. In small IT organizations, this means positioning support so as to solve more IT computer issues and improve internal customer service. In more mature organizations, IT can position services to create more business value. IT branding will help your organization become the partner of choice internally.

I like the article Russ Aebig wrote about branding for IT organizations, entitled “Attraction of Identity”. He started with some very good questions and I am sharing it here because I want to end this article with the same questions: “As an organization, who are you? What is your internal and external story? If you cannot crisply define yourself in a few words you likely have a problem on your hands.”

Photo courtesy of ignitionblog.

Achieving the Highest Level of Process Culture Maturity

Last August 13, I published an article entitled “Accelerating Process Culture” which talked about the four different levels of process culture maturity in a company. There are two underlying criteria used to qualify the different levels of process culture maturity– level executive management involvement and level of business process integration. 

When executives exhibit a strong commitment to the process and technology evolution of the company, they always bring everyone on board. Executive management has the authority to push company-wide change as well as fund processes and IT initiatives. They are responsible for aligning the company’s structure to the business integration strategy; therefore, they enable the organization to advance to a higher process culture maturity. Let’s revisit the four levels of process culture maturity:

  • Level 1: Individual heroes – dependence on individuals or a few company experts
  • Level 2: Diverse Approach – initiatives per department but lacking in integration
  • Level 3: Model Integration – business and IT align and model integration is achieved
  • Level 4: Process Culture – executive passionately participates in process initiatives

 Process Maturity Levels

This time, let’s examine closely the highest level of process maturity—The Process Culture. The final step of process culture maturity is when the organization achieves a high level of model integration by leveraging the consistent involvement of executive management as sponsors and facilitators of change.

There are three factors that determine the right approach towards process culture maturity.  Let’s call it the “SIB factors”. S stands for senior management involvement, I for innovation and B for business model integration.

Senior managers and managers alike are the critical success factors in your organization’s process culture journey. They lead the way in building process culture and defining the operating model. Innovation in information technology is also a key component. Successful companies nowadays rely on an integrated set of electronic business processes, tools, information, and technologies. With proper support and funding, an IT organization should be able to provide the right platform and technology in which to build the foundation.

The next thing that the company needs to do is to make sure that they select the right business process model from among the many tested disciplines and existing operating models. The underlying logic here is that a company’s business model is limited by the environment. In other words, it depends on several factors, such as the industry it operates, the products and services it sells, its size and geographical diversity. Using all these factors, you determine the level of business process standardization and the level of integration of the company’s different businesses — with profitability and competitiveness requirements in mind. Shared services, outsourcing, diversification, standardization, model replication are some of the most prevalent business models multinational companies have implemented. 

The real question is: how close are you and your company to getting to the highest level of process culture? This is a guide on how to assess the level of process culture maturity of an organization. Again, the examples are outlined using the “SIB factors”. Observe the following points and evaluate how your company is doing right now.

Senior management involvement

  • Top executives participate in the IT and Processes evolution committee.
  • Requires thoroughly analyzed business cases and encourages measurement of acquired benefits.
  • Pushes for post-implementation audit to evaluate project output and acquire lessons learned.
  • Encourages collaboration across business lines and functional teams.
  • Funds IT and Process initiatives and actively support training in the use of IT.

Innovation:

  • Exhibits a strong sense of innovation, feelings of shared interest to continue to improve and be ahead of competitors
  • Holds regular management briefings on the impact of new technology developments and process innovations in the industry.
  • Establishes a consolidated IT operation that manages a standard IT platform to sustain day-to-day support functions to business areas.
  • Encourages use of IT in the business. Users possess a feeling of empowerment and confidence in the effectiveness and reliability of the processes and systems. 
  • Strives to leverage new technology, platform and methodology with sufficient effort in research and development in the area of processes and IT. 

Business Integration:

  • Defines a clear vision of model integration and process standardization.
  • Uses a best-in-class enterprise resource planning software to run an integrated set of business processes
  • Promotes implementation of end-to-end processes to ensure the efficient flow of activities and effective allocation of decision rights and accountabilities.
  • Captures business information in one area and shares it to another business area. Possesses the willingness to share and use information to measure and improve key performance.
  • Maximizes reuse of business processes and platform across different business lines.

Achieving a high level of process culture maturity presents a host of challenges to an organization. The SIB factors provide a structured framework where initiatives can be drawn and strategies derived. This will propel your company forward through its process culture maturity journey.  Achieving the highest level of process culture maturity requires strong executive sponsorship and IT leadership in order to support the company through a change process. When achieved, the company is in a good position to leverage IT for profitable growth and gain competitive advantage in a global market that knows no boundaries. This leap begins with you and your company’s senior managers.

Taking Advantage of the IT Extended Network

The number of IT professionals expecting to see budget and head-count cuts grew significantly as more large-business decision-makers turn to cost-cutting measures in 2009 due to the failing economy. This has resulted to project postponements and headcount reduction. IT managers worldwide are scrambling for resources necessary for day-to-day operations and support without distressing IT service delivery. The good news is that IT managers don’t have to look further for help. The answer lies within the boundaries of the same organization it serves – resources are there and it could be plentiful.

During an IT project cycle, users and resource persons from the business are invited to participate. They are integrated into the project to work with the core IT and Process team. They assist in the design and validation of business processes. They conduct integral testing and facilitate training of end users. In larger initiatives, they ensure that business operation requirements are well represented.

I refer to this group as the Business Competence Team or BCT. Organizations call them in different ways: Process Teams, Power users, and Evolution Teams. BCT is composed of employees who have superior knowledge of the company’s processes and tools but do not necessarily report directly to the IT core organization. They are users from operations with extensive knowledge of applications and thus have certain privileged access to systems.  

The BCT is IT’s extended network. They represent the business during project implementation and when they go back to operations, it is the other way around. At this point, they embody IT within the business operation they serve. Their knowledge of the business model and more advanced know-how of the application differentiate them from their peers. They are IT’s partners within the organization.

The challenge for IT managers is to take advantage of this extended network and tap into a readily available resource pool and fill in the void left by headcount reduction.  It is cost effective and a perfect win-win situation for IT and the business. These are just some of the functions that BCT can perform: 

  • Support – Serve as resource persons of end users in operations and as active participants in the IT support network
  • Enabler – Assure continuous system and process evolution by participating in process forums and evolution network meetings
  • Trainer – Reinforce the standards of best practices and better use of application capabilities. Also responsible for continuously training end-users during system upgrades.

It is important that a program is established to enable the BCT team.  This initiative should have a clear set of goals, expectations and rules. IT management should initiate this program and rally top management support. The strategic intent is to relentlessly pursue involvement of BCT members so they can participate in the evolution process as well as onsite assistance to peers. Naturally there are important factors to consider in establishing a Business Competence Team Program. I will discuss more about this in my upcoming article.