Sunday, May 30, 2010
I updated this post from awhile ago. The quick list of points is still at the beginning with some more detailed notes below.
I recently was asked to participate on a panel of technology leaders presenting to a group of CEOs. As I only had 10 minutes to give some advice and tips on how to effectively leverage technology, I did my best to pare down my thoughts to a short set of principles:
- First People – Then Process – Then Technology
- Never abdicate your responsibility for your company’s technology
- Have a solid, documented IT strategy
- Practice Rhythm of Review
- Know your total cost of IT
- Strive for simplicity
- Proactively manage security and risk
- Be a very tough, but very fair customer
- Know ALL your “IT people” – treat them as one team
- You get what you pay for – invest wisely and as part of a plan
- Be wary of tech trends
Detailed explanations for each principle follow . . .
First People, Then Process, Then Technology
This has become a bit of an overused cliche from consulting companies and IT professionals, but it's true! Focus your efforts and money in that order. If you don't have the best people on board and your business process isn't clear and simple, fix them first before you jump into any new technology. Remember, only you can be a true judge of whether you have A players on your team. Your IT vendors aren't going to tell you that the reason your technology project is failing is because your people are weak. They're just going to work longer, and most likely charge you more, to try to get the job done.
Never abdicate your responsibility for your company's technology
Many business executives are not comfortable dealing with the complexities of IT. It's fine to have the desire to say "I don't care how it works, I just want it to work!". But even if you've hired the best technology managers and vendors to run your company's IT, you still should give it a decent amount of your personal attention. After all, it's expensive. Sometimes the most expensive part of a company's budget. Remember, the business leaders (not the IT managers or vendors) own these systems and the processes they support. When I'm brought into a client to clean up a technology project or system implementation gone seriously awry, I'm pretty tough on IT vendors who mess up. But I'm even tougher on the business managers who hired them and did nothing about it. There is a big difference between delegation and abdication of responsibility. Overall, as a CEO, it's best to keep a "buc stops here" mentality on what has become possibly most critical tool in your business arsenal.
Have a solid, documented IT strategy
This builds on the above point. Be sure to invest time in this. Work directly with your IT managers and vendors to create a clear, holistic picture of where your technology is and where it's going. Their job is to worry about the details, but also to make technology simple for you and your non-tech business leaders to understand.
Practice Rhythm of Review
The best strategy, budget, forecast, or project timeline is worthless without regular checks on where you are vs. your plan. Put checkpoints and tollgates in your calendar up front and stick to them.
Know your total cost of IT
Have an exhaustive IT budget and monitor it regularly. It never fails to amaze me how many senior managers don't have even a rough idea of what they are spending on technology in total. It's easy to remember buying that expensive piece of hardware, or paying for a big new system to be put in. But it's when you total ALL areas of technology and look at both the one time and recurring costs that you get the big picture.
Strive for simplicity
As a company grows and runs over time systems and add-on technologies propagate like weeds. It may seem a bit counter intuitive, but less is better, cheaper, faster, and easier to cope with. It is challenging to create a simple IT Architecture, but definitely worth it. Fast companies value having the best technology, but are completely on top of it and don't allow unplanned complexity to bring them to their knees.
Proactively manage security and risk
Protecting your valuable business data and ensuring that your critical IT systems are always available gets more important every day as companies become more and more dependent on technology. Your job as a leader is to balance risk tolerance vs. IT spend at the appropriate levels for your company. Think broadly and holistically when you make a plan considering your data, your customers' data, system backups, viruses, hackers, malicious outsiders, disgruntled employees, accidents, and natural disasters. Then be sure to put the necessary policies and procedures in place. No one can spend an unlimited amount of time and money to make their IT 100% full-proof and it's always necessary to carry a certain amount of risk and tolerate some vulnerabilities. But in this area, it's far better to make conscious, informed decisions with your eyes wide open than to be caught by surprise.
Be a very tough, but very fair customer
Set up your IT vendors for a long term successful partnership with you, but hold them to a very high professional standard. Drive your IT suppliers (internal and external) to be business people first and technology people second. Expect your IT employees and vendors alike to articulate issues in a clear way that facilitates decision making. Don't ever let them bury you in techno-jargon.
Know ALL your IT people - treat them as one team
This includes anyone who affects your systems including full time employees, consultants and contractors, and outside tech suppliers. Even more importantly it includes your non-IT employees who have a big role to play in owning the systems they use. Establishing SuperUsers for each critical functional area / system is one of the best techniques I've seen for helping IT and "the business" work well together.
You get what you pay for
Realize that solid, worthy technology costs money, but wise investments up front (as part of a good strategy) will save money in the long run. Technology mistakes grow to become expensive mistakes even if they just seemed like an easy and cheap fix at the time, so be sure to really think through your technology investment decisions.
Be wary of tech trends
Innovation is crucial and early adopters of new technology can often gain a competitive advantage, but jumping on the latest bandwagon with no good reason just amounts to spending on technology for technology's sake. Work with your team to get good at making quick assessments of a new tech offering and determining if you should be an early adopter, fast follower, late adopter, or not use it at all.
Readers' thoughts and input on this list are welcome as we plan to continually refine it over time.