Has your IT come out of the proverbial and actual basement to be an integral part of your business strategy? Too often, business leaders assign IT a task and expect an initiative to be delivered. End of story. The truth is, business owners must engage and own the outcomes of their IT investments, driving them to a strategic value that can be measured.
What is IT strategy? Think about any infrastructure initiative (building highways, public transportation or urban development). Without the requisite strategic investment of time, funding and planning, these initiatives face delays, cost overruns, diversion from desired strategy and failure. True partnerships between IT and business operations insure that the best thinking of both can be applied to a given situation to produce strategic results.
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IT should be viewed as a business strategy. Today, not a single discussion in the workers’ compensation industry relating to claims management or medical management does not include IT. As workers’ comp focuses on outcomes (both cost and quality), it is the only new strategy around. Moreover, it is the most effective and efficient strategy to achieve business goals. The following six elements are necessary to generate business value by leveraging the IT strategy.
1. Define the project—Describing how new technology or a new data application will function is only the first step in integrating IT into the business strategy. However, defining the project can be tricky. Remember, IT professionals talk a different language and appreciate different measures of success than those involved in operations. Business owners cannot assume their IT requests are understood as they were intended. Even slight misinterpretations of requests can result in frustration, cost overrides and a useless tool.
I recall one time, early in my career, when I submitted specifications for a development project. I used the word “revolutionary” to describe the powerful impact it would have on the business. However, the IT person, who was younger and male, interpreted "revolutionary" in an aggressive, military sense, which was not even close to what I had in mind. Always verify that you have an understanding and clarify of all elements of the IT project.
2. Design for simplicity—If the IT project outcome is complicated or requires too many steps, people will not use it.
3. Define the expected business value—As a part of defining the IT project, define its expected business value. Both the business unit involved and the IT team need to align their expected outcomes. Not unlike evaluating ROI (return on investment), identify the financial investment and rewards of the IT project. Make sure to also describe the anticipated collateral outcomes of the IT project, such as PR, business growth or client involvement. Figure out how to measure the expected business outcomes when the project is complete.
Design the project outcome value measures at the beginning. Too often, business leaders do not articulate their expectations of value and, therefore, can never prove them. If you do not know where you are going, you could end up somewhere else.
4. Commit resources—Funding and other resources such as personnel should be allocated at the beginning; short-shrifting resources will guarantee less-than-satisfactory results. Know from the beginning how the IT project will be implemented and who will do and be responsible for the work. Establish accountabilities and create procedures for follow-up.
5. Monitor progress—Continuously monitor and manage the project, even throughout the IT development process. Discovering deviations from the plan early on minimizes damage and rework. Obviously, rework means cost and delay.
6. Measure value—Once the project is accepted and implemented, begin continuous outcome evaluation. Execute the value measures outlined at the beginning. Make the necessary adjustments and keep your eye on the business value.
Not everyone can be an IT expert, but everyone can become an expert in how IT advances the strategies of their domain.