Using enterprise transformation to grow business skills

Members from the CIO Executive Council weigh in on using enterprise transformation to grow business skills. Add your opinion and advice below.

This article originally appeared on CIO.com.

Scenario: Keeping IT Staff at the Business Table

Jeff Hutchinson, Global CIO, Maple Leaf Foods

Where some see a challenge, we see opportunity. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves each day since undertaking a massive ERP consolidation effort at Maple Leaf Foods—whittling down 30 legacy systems into a single instance of SAP. Given our size and complexity, we have been very successful, with two business units fully deployed and plans to finish the rest by 2013, but there are of course issues to address beyond rollout and implementation.

As part of this effort, we merged a number of independent applications teams into a central information systems (IS) organization to better manage our resources and engage with the business at the enterprise level. In my experience, successful ERP rollout and adoption has as much or more to do with managing business change as it does with configuring system functionality, and despite our initial success, challenges remain on that side. For instance, how do I ensure that we have the technical skills available to support the new system long-term? Moreover, how do I ensure that my team is more business-savvy so we continue to serve as trusted advisers to our business partners on the bigger question of enabling business transformation? How do we maintain our seat at that table?

Advice: Perception of Credibility is Reality

Mark Brown, CIO, General Growth Properties

We faced the challenge of improving IT-business engagement with familiar tactics, such as appointing a business representative to act as an IT translator. The problem was that both sides simply talked at each other, not to each other. Many of the people who performed IT tasks were technical by nature and task-oriented. The business side was results-oriented and thought in terms of outcomes.

To bridge the divide between IT and the business, we created a new role: customer advocate. Assigned to business units, they serve as business analysts and relationship managers. Most came from the business, but we had them report directly into the IT organization. This makes them answerable and sympathetic to both sides of the relationship. We looked for individuals who, aside from demonstrating strong business acumen, knew how to influence others. We also made sure that they all received business process management training so they could understand, document and propose improvements to business partners.

When you talk about earning a seat at the table, you mean gaining credibility with the business. Many of the people we chose as advocates were director-level or above and were already perceived as good partners by department heads. Early on, perception was reality, so we positioned them as the face of IT. When the business saw that people they knew to be competent were representing IT, they applied that competence to the whole of IT.

Advice: Use Your Consultants to Train Your Staff

Brian Hardee, CIO, Oxford Industries (OXM)

As a former SAP configuration consultant, I have seen how organizations can lose millions of dollars by focusing too much on technology and not enough on their own people. Consultants conveniently forget to tell you that training your staff to run SAP is easier than you think.First, have your team shadow and learn from their consultant counterparts during the initial implementation. We matched our security guy with the corresponding consultant, and so on. Don’t allow your consultants to simply do the work and walk out the door or you will hurt later on.

As for additional training, use SAP Press’s do-it-yourself books and SAP’s online help. A small outlay for these books will pay huge dividends by developing a strategic internal knowledge base and demonstrating that you are willing to invest in your employees. You should also get the power business users engaged throughout the blueprint and realization phase—beyond sharing critical business-process insight, they will also begin to appreciate what is involved in providing ongoing support.

One thing to be mindful of is the talent exodus that sometimes comes after an SAP implementation. If you have any larger companies within a 30-mile radius that need SAP skills, your team could be poached. Being aware of this helps determine how to allocate education funds, and we found open and honest communication was our best employee-retention strategy. Staff took advantage of the learning opportunities we provided, and cross-training ensures that you have backup if someone does decide to leave.

Hutchinson, Brown and Hardee are all members of the CIO Executive Council, a global peer advisory service and professional association of more than 500 CIOs, founded by CIO's publisher. To learn more, visit council.cio.com.

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