The Business Drivers Behind IT Initiatives

**Editor’s Note: This article appears in the December print edition of the ebizQ Buyer’s Guide, available as a supplement to the Business Integration Journal.

Sometimes, the most critical enterprise integration challenges are cultural and political, not technological. Many IT executives can easily identify business drivers behind specific current or desired initiatives. However, some encounter varying, sometimes significant objections to those initiatives. IT executives therefore frequently request assistance from us in "marketing" and "selling" initiatives internally in consistently effective ways. Below are some specific recommendations based on best practices that are working at numerous companies.

Marketing and sales skills may seem at first irrelevant to IT executives. However, many such executives are at enterprises where IT budgets are flat, growing by only 1 to 2 percent annually, or shrinking. Also, IT executives frequently face what is effectively competition from outsourcing. In addition, IT initiatives are often perceived by those outside of IT as large expenditures with little demonstrable business benefit, if any. To succeed under such conditions, RFG recommends that IT executives learn and adapt effective marketing and sales techniques.

IT executives should begin from the basic assumption that for every IT initiative, all enterprise constituents can be collected into at least one of three groups – influencers, practitioners and stakeholders. Influencers influence budgets and other factors surrounding each initiative. Practitioners include those within and beyond IT tasked with making each initiative work. Stakeholders are any and all constituents affected by each initiative and its results. IT executives should ensure that all outreach and "promotional materials" supporting every initiative addresses the concerns and proclivities of all three groups, to maximize the likelihood of "buy-in" and "sign-off," and minimize the likelihood of active or passive sabotage.

To achieve these goals, IT executives should adopt a "CPR" approach, where "C" stands for "culture," "P" for "process," and "R" for "relevant technologies," listed in order of priority. In other words, IT executives should address all known and suspected cultural issues affecting influencers, practitioners, and stakeholders in every outreach effort. These issues should help to shape policies, practices and procedures, including those used to assess, compare, and deploy relevant technologies. As one RFG client put it, "culture eats process for lunch" at most enterprises. Cultural issues can range from basic "FUD" ("fear, uncertainty, and doubt") to outright hostility between individuals or factions within and/or outside of IT. Failure to identify and address these effectively can kill an IT initiative before its proponents ever get to evaluate potentially relevant technologies.

To address cultural issues effectively before they can become obstacles to IT initiatives, IT executives should invest time and effort to "assess, communicate, and engage" ("ACE"). IT executives should assess the constituents of each intended initiative, to identify and differentiate influencers, practitioners, and stakeholders. IT executives should then work with cooperative members of each constituent group, to develop effective communications that speak to each group in language that is culturally sensitive, engaging, and familiar. IT executives should also strive to engage as stakeholders (if not influencers) any who perceive themselves as disinterested observers. These efforts will improve the odds of support and success, and help to enhance the perception of IT as well.

As IT executives identify and attempt to address the cultural issues of key constituents, development of relevant policies should reflect and parallel those culture-related efforts. IT executives should "acknowledge, leverage, and transform" ("ALT") both cultures and incumbent processes wherever possible. Just as leveraging incumbent technologies is usually easier and less expensive than integrating or substituting alternatives, adapting and improving on incumbent policies can be easier than attempting to impose new ones. However, IT executives must be careful to assess the effectiveness of incumbent policies carefully, especially in terms of resonance with current cultural and political conditions and constituent agendas.

IT executives should apply to their ACE, ALT, and CPR efforts life cycle management techniques similar to those used to manage IT resources. In this context, every plan supporting every IT initiative should include a marketing/sales component, which should address clearly the ACE, ALT, and CPR issues discussed above. Also, processes and policies should support and enforce consistent documentation of steps taken and lessons learned, for effective continuous improvement of ACE, ALT, and CPR efforts. Such efforts should be integrated into all relevant IT project and project portfolio management policies and practices as well.

IT should seek and obtain whatever vendor assistance is available and helpful while developing and refining strategies and best practices for ACE, ALT, and CPR efforts. IT vendors have vested financial interests in the success of IT in marketing initiatives within the enterprise. Leading IT vendors also have a range tools and services that can assist IT marketing efforts. IT executives should negotiate aggressively with incumbent and candidate vendors, to obtain as many of these as possible for no cost or at significant discounts.

Where possible, IT executives should seek to engage select marketing teams within the enterprise, to help to develop and refine ACE, ALT, and CPR efforts. Such efforts, if successful, could help IT to be more successful when seeking support for key initiatives, and could improve the perceived value of IT as well.

It is not enough for IT to focus all initiatives on clear and demonstrable business value. IT executives also need marketing and sales skills, to ensure that enterprises perceive and appreciate such business value clearly. Without the support of effective internal marketing, IT risks delivering lessened business value and suffering negative perceptions and limited support from enterprise colleagues.

Fortunately, focusing on key issues and areas described above can help IT executives to develop, deploy, and refine processes for effective marketing of IT and strategic IT initiatives. IT executives should treat the ACE, ALT, and CPR elements discussed above as parts of a relatively simple framework upon which can be built sound policies for more consistent and effective marketing of and by IT.

About the Author

Michael Dortch has been an analyst, 'information entrepreneur,' speaker, and writer about IT and 'the real world" for the past 30 years. After almost 10 years at the Robert Frances Group (RFG), Michael began a new position with Aberdeen Group in September. Michael is also ebizQ's BPM in Action blogger.

More by Michael Dortch

About Aberdeen Group

Aberdeen Group is a leading IT market analysis and positioning services firm that helps Information Technology vendors establish leadership in emerging markets. Aberdeen helps clients identify new market opportunities, enter those markets successfully, and accelerate the adoption of new technologies.