When I write about CIO’s taking an increased business-oriented stance in their jobs, I sometimes forget that without a team of people who are both willing and able to do that, their ability to get out of the data center and into the board room is drastically hampered.
I work with a company from time to time that embodies for me the “nirvana state” of IT: they know how to increase revenue for the organization. They do this while still maintaining focus on IT’s other two jobs — avoiding risk and reducing cost. How do they accomplish this? They know how their business works, and they know how their business uses their applications. The guys in this IT shop can tell you precisely how many IOPS any type of end-customer business transaction will create. They know that if they can do something with their network, their code, and/or their gear that provides an additional I/O or CPU tick back to the applications, they can serve X number of transactions and that translates into Y dollars in revenue, and if they can do that without buying anything, it creates P profit.
The guys I work with aren’t the CIO, although I do have relationships with the COO, VP of IT, etc. To clarify – there aren’t business analysts who crossed over into IT from the business who provide this insight. These are the developers, infrastructure guys, security specialists, etc. At this point, I think if I asked the administrative assistant who greets me at the door every visit, she’d be able to tell me how her job translates into the business process and how it affects revenue.
Some might say that since this particular company is a custom development shop that should be easy. Yet, they have to know the business processes to write the code that drives them. Yes and no. I think that most people who make that statement haven’t closely examined the developers coming out of college these days. I have a number of nieces, nephews, and children of close friends who are all going into IT, and let me tell you, the stuff they’re teaching in the development classes these kids are taking isn’t about optimization of code to a business process and it isn’t about utility of IT.
It’s about teaching a foreign language more than teaching them the ‘why you do this’ of things. You’re not getting this kind of thought and thought-provoking behavior out of the current generation of graduates. This comes from caring. In my estimation it comes from those at the top giving enough latitude to make intelligent decisions and demanding that people understand what the company is doing and more importantly – where they want to be.
They set goals, clarify those goals, and they make it clear that everyone in the organization can and does play a role in achieving those goals. These guys don’t go to work every day wondering why they are sitting in the cubicle, behind the desk, with eight different colored lists on their whiteboard around a couple of intricately complicated diagrams depicting a new code release. They aren’t cogs in a machine, and they’re made not to feel as though they are. If you want to be a cog, you don’t fit in this org, pretty simple. That’s the impression I get of them, anyway.
The other important piece of this is that they don’t trust their vendors. That’s probably the wrong way to say it. It’s more about questioning everything from their partners, taking nothing for granted, and demanding that their vendors explain how everything works so they understand how they plug into it and then take advantage of it. They don’t buy technology for the sake of buying technology. If older gear works, they keep the older gear, but they understand the ceiling of that gear, and before they hit it, they acquire new. They don’t always buy the cheapest, but they buy the gear that will drive greater profitability for the business.
That’s how IT should be buying. Not a cost matrix of four different vendors who are all fighting to be the apple the others are compared to. Rather – which solution will help me be more profitable as a business because I can drive more customer transactions through the system? Of course, 99% of organizations I deal with couldn’t tell you what the cost of a business transaction is. Probably 90% of them couldn’t tell you what the business transaction of their organization looks like.
These guys aren’t perfect, they have holes. They are probably staffed too thin to reach peak efficiency and they could take advantage of some newer technologies to be more effective. They could probably use a little more process in a few areas. But at the end of the day, they get it. They get that IT matters, they get that information is the linchpin to their business, and they get that if the people who work in the organization care, the organization is better. They understand that their business is unique and they have a limited ability to stay ahead of the much larger companies in their field; thus they must innovate, but never stray too far from their foundation or the core business will suffer.
It’s refreshing to work with a company like this. I wish there were more stories like this organization and that the trade rags would highlight them more prominently. They deserve a lot of credit for how they operate and what they look to IT to do for them.
Even though I can’t name them here I’ll just say good job guys, keep it up, and thanks for working with us.
Photo Credit: comedy_nose