Goal-Oriented Training Brings Targeted Change
Of course, we could easily classify the various components of the application development process so that an environmental scan against these components would tell us how we might use our training or research dollars (or prioritize them) to gain the knowledge needed.
We were much less familiar with the needs of the business. What knowledge did we need to pursue in order to best serve it? We went in circles for a while until we realized that the best thing we could do was to ask the business itself. Those on the team most familiar with the systems that supported the business met with the business managers and came up with a list of targeted issues that they needed to address. We found that that sort of communication carries huge benefits. The business managers were enthusiastic about the new interest we were showing in their goals and processes. If anything, they felt that we should have had these sorts of discussions sooner.
With all of our planning, we were able to make the most of what we had to spend that year. We decided that 10 areas were the maximum we could handle on our annual budget, leaving some things for the following year, but also putting a little money aside in case something arose unexpectedly that we needed to learn about quickly.
Our budget constraints also led us to look for ways to keep the costs of our environmental scan down, and it turned out that powerful and free knowledge-base tools were available to help us determine where the information we sought resided. Vendors were another very helpful resource, one that we had previously overlooked. Once our vendors knew what we were looking for, they were able at the very least to point us in the right general direction, again at no cost.
Another breakthrough: We realized that we should build on the alliances we had started to create with leaders within the business by asking them to accompany us to see the new approaches we were investigating. This simple thing turned out to be a great way to shorten the time it took for the business to buy in to the changes we proposed. As I always say, people support best what they help build. An added benefit of this approach, though, was that we could make much better matches for each business unit's particular need, and in much less time.
We understood that we would want to take a look at the landscape anew every year and decide on the areas where we would concentrate our knowledge absorption. But beyond our agreed-upon target areas, we left room for knowledge gained through individual interest, and established a process to recognize and reward anyone who improved the performance and chances for success of the IT function and the business. This turned out to be very exciting stuff for contributors, which created a desire in others to do the same.
Does It Actually Work?
Over the years, this "targeted research and change" process brought us more positive results than I could begin to tell you about. Just as an example, when I worked for a large credit card issuer, our targeted awareness and training approach led us to introduce digital imaging technology that allowed us to completely avoid the cost of handling and storing physical pieces of paper (checks) while also making it possible for call center staff to make the appropriate digital images available to customers over the Internet during a call. After the business press suggested that this was a customer service advantage, other credit card issuers hustled to duplicate and enhance the process -- but we were a step ahead, and proud of it.
Yes, this improved process let us indeed measurably avoid cost, improve service, increase revenue and improve competitive advantage. What's more, its initiative was seen by the business as a proactive and practical approach to improve its value proposition to customers and help it achieve its growth strategy. Perhaps best of all, this approach to joint and purposeful exploration created positive experiences for all concerned and growing confidence that exciting discoveries were actually out there to be found. And they were.
So, here's to change. It comes to all of us, whether we expect it or not. You'll stay a step ahead it, both for your IT function and the enterprise you serve, if you proactively and continuously improve your team's awareness. And once you've begun the process, you'll never have the same year of experience twice.
Al Kuebler was CIO for AT&T Universal Card, Los Angeles County, Alcatel and McGraw-Hill and director of process engineering at Citicorp. He also directed the consulting activity for CSC Europe. He is now a consultant on general management and IT issues. He is the author of the book Technical Impact: Making Your Information Technology Effective, and Keeping It That Way, from which this article was adapted. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.