As IT consultants, we often find ourselves aligned to (read: paid by) either business or IT, but to implement successful technology solutions we have to work in concert with both business and IT stakeholders. We have to avoid the mistakes that follow from putting IT at the center of the universe to the detriment of the business users. IT supports business, and we always have to work with that at the forefront of our minds. Below are a few tips that I've found that are helpful in putting the needs of the business first.
1. No IT project is ever and end to itself
IT projects must be implemented to support and enhance the business. They must deliver value greater than their cost. This seems obvious but it is far too often not the case. How many software packages have been upgraded because there are some cool new features that the system administrators want to use?
Even when projects are ostensibly to support the business, the projects have to work in the real world business scenarios where they are implemented. For example, secure passwords are a must, but without an enterprise sign-on system, they can quickly become unwieldy to the average user and can lead to bad practices like writing passwords down or storing them in text documents. A company's IT infrastructure is there to support the core business work of the company, so projects or processes that improve the IT infrastructure but hurt the company's business should not happen.
2. IT (and IT consultants) must learn to communicate to the business in business terms
For example, we cannot and should not expect business users to become data modelers in order to analyze their sales data. And we, not the business users, are often to blame if business users overload data elements or otherwise enter bad data. The business users are going to do what they have to do to run their business, and if that means not using the system the way IT envisioned, that is what is going to happen. There is a shared responsibility here – the trained business users must adapt to procedures that may initially seem cumbersome but will lead to greater data quality and an increase in the business value of the organization's data. When IT systems implementations are done well, this should happen organically, which leads to the final point…
3. The most effective technology solutions start with listening to the business customer
This may seem like a shameless plug for the new CapTech tagline: "Others talk, we listen," but it is again an obvious point that is consistently neglected. I have sat in countless meetings with vendors, contractors, consultants, and IT staff who lecture the business users on what they need and what they should be doing. This approach is flawed from the start. It alienates the business stakeholder, who is the customer. It starts with the priorities backwards - IT first, then let the business figure out how to minimize the negative impact of the "improved" system or process. And it perpetuates the "us vs. them" mentality that is either the root cause, or a key contributing factor, of far too many failed IT projects.
On the other hand, by showing the business stakeholders that you are listening, that you want to understand their business, and that you want to implement a solution that adds value and makes their jobs easier, you are creating the foundation for a successful project that delivers real business value. You are also establishing a partnership that will enable you to foster business practices that will lead to improved data quality. And you will play a part in re-shaping the harmful "us vs. them" stereotype common to our industry.