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When Technology Acts as a True Partner to the Rest of the Business

Published on: 2014-08-10

This is the fourth in a series of eight posts that examines the relationship between business and IT. Based on an article examining manufacturing by Steven Wheelright and Robert Hayes, I talked about four different levels (or stages) at which IT can interact with the rest of the business:

  • Stage 1: Internally Neutral (Minimize IT's Negative Potential)
  • Stage 2: Externally Neutral (Parity with Competitors or IT as a Service Provider)
  • Stage 3: Internally Supportive (Provides Credible Support to the Business Strategy)
  • Stage 4: Externally Supportive (Provides an Important Contribution to the Competitive Success of the Organization)

In previous posts, I talked about how Stage 1 was not a stage that a functional company would find itself in, how Stage 3 was inherently unstable, and how Stage 2 is a comfortable place for both business leaders and IT, but limits the potential of your business. Today I'll go over Stage 4. Wheelright and Hayes called this "Externally Supportive", but I'll change this to "Technology as a Partner" in my discussions.

In the Technology as a Partner model, the IT leaders would truly be partners with the rest of the business in their shared goal of maximizing the business value. In other words, the IT leaders would be equally responsible as the business leaders to create and cultivate visions for new technologies that would enable the business to succeed. In fact, a true Stage 4 organization wouldn't separate IT vs. business leaders - they'd both just be "leaders". Both groups would be responsible for keeping up with the latest business and technology trends, although everyone would have their own perspectives.

To make this work, you need to have a large amount of communication and trust between different groups within your organization. This requires an entirely different management approach than is expected out of a business in the other three stages. To further clarify this difference, here is a chart of skills needed as defined by the authors of the original article:

Alternative Views of Work Force Management (Exhibit 3)
Stages 1, 2, and 3: Traditional, StaticStage 4: Broad Potential, Dynamic
Command and controlLearning
Management of effortManagement of attention
Coordinating informationProblem-solving information
Direct (supervisory) controlIndirect (systems and values) control
Process stability/worker independenceProcess evolution/worker dependence

One more that I would add is that Stage 1, 2, and 3 employees focus on finishing tasks, where Stage 4 employees focus on accomplishing goals.

Companies whose technology team is a true partner to the business have several significant advantages over its competitors:

  • Business-savvy IT professionals and IT-savvy business professionals can understand how to extract value out of new technologies much more quickly
  • High trust in employees makes it easier to implement Agile (as opposed to the pseudo-Agile that's popular today), leading to a higher project success rate
  • Greater responsibility for individuals means younger employees have a greater chance to develop their leadership and management skills
  • Lower requirements for micro-managing employees leads to more productive managers
  • Stage 4 companies attract better employees

I could go on, but you get the idea. If you want to be a truly successful company, you need to strive to make the technology team true partners of the business (Stage 4). How do you get there? Unfortunately it's not a quick or easy path, but my next four blog posts in this series will attempt to answer that question.

Other posts in this series:

May: Levels of function (and dysfunction) IT can have with business
June: Why Stages 1 and 3 are not viable long-term stages
July: What a Stage 2 organization might look like
August: What a Stage 4 organization might look like
September: How IT professionals can be their own worst enemy in achieving Stage 4
October: How your Stage would affect your management practices
November: How your Stage would affect your hiring practices
December: How can an organization reach Stage 4?

This article was originally posted here and may have been edited for clarity.