Working with IT_Does it need to be that difficultt?


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All too often a break down in communication between business units and IT causes angst - here ar e few thoughts on how you might avoid the blame game...

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Working with IT_Does it need to be that difficultt?

  1. 1. Maximising Contact Centre effectiveness by developing strong two-way relationships with IT - is it that hard? By Steve Mitchinson, Managing Partner, TeamRed Solutions, and Chairman Australian Teleservices Association “A true partnership between the contact centre and IT is a powerful tool. It can give both players a seat at the table for organisational initiatives. Most importantly, however, such a partnership can improve the overall customer experience – and all the associated benefits – and that’s good for everybody” Layne Holley, Managing Editor, CMI Why is the relationship important? Getting support for new IT investment is one of the most pressing, and expensive challenges facing contact centre leadership. Recent research suggests today’s contact centre manager sees the successful implementation of new IT projects as a major challenge - second only to finding and retaining good staff. Process automation and business process improvement are key focus areas for centres of all sizes, across all industries as you seek that source of competitive edge. As customers continue to be given more and more options and channels for communicating with their other service providers, they in turn become better educated about what they should expect from your business. The choice is no longer yours. They require, and indeed demand, increasingly sophisticated and efficient means of service. If you do not enjoy a strong working relationship with your CIO you will not be able to make it happen The 2008 Australian Contact Centre Survey conducted with Vivaz, suggests that around 90% of Australian contact centres intend to have some degree of customer self management orTeamRed – putting business in the fast lane automation in place by 2015. No doubt similar trends are evident in other markets and so this makes the need for strong bonds between the CC & IT a critical success factor The following table, drawn from the same survey demonstrates the increasing dependence in IT systems over recent years: TeamRed Solutions- Delivering better Business through Better Thinking - for more information visit our website at 1
  2. 2. Source: ACCS 2008 by Vivaz And yet how many contact centre leaders actually put enough effort into understanding and working with their CIOs, or indeed the IT Team, to build the strong working relationships necessary to optimise the opportunities that exist? Conversely how many CIOs put in the reciprocal effort? Generally speaking, the answer to both questions is - “not enough.” Over a 30 year period I have had the opportunity to work with IT professionals at both ends of the spectrum – those who dream about some obscure visionary application that will typically never happen, let alone work and those whose single focus is the deployment of an IT environment that maximises the potential of the enterprise. Having worked and consulted across a wide range of enterprises and industry sectors, I haveTeamRed – putting business in the fast lane seen the whole spectrum of relationships. I have walked into environments where the first message I get is often along the lines of ”You won’t get any help from the IT guys” or even worse “We bought this expensive application/ system but nothings improved!”. Why is this? Perhaps too many of us have preconceived ideas based on previous experience, or perhaps too many of us believe Nick Burns is a role model for IT. "Nick Burns, Your Companys Computer Guy” is the name of a recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live . In the sketches, "Nick Burns", is a caricature of the stereotypically condescending computer expert. There are two other recurring lines in the sketches. At the beginning of the segment, whenever it is mentioned that Nick Burns is coming into the office, one character mutters, "I dont like that guy", and at the end of the segment, Burns exits, and comes back sarcastically yelling, "Oh by the way, YOURE WELCOME!” TeamRed Solutions- Delivering better Business through Better Thinking - for more information visit our website at 2
  3. 3. Worth a watch, as it explains why it is easy for both sides to “stereotype” and (at least in part) why these communication breakdowns exist, often unnecessarily. Based on the major challenges foreseen by contact centre managers, the relationship you have with IT is one of the two most important business relationships you have – the other is with HR, yet rarely do you see issues with HR peers. Maybe you should think about why that is, and apply the same effort to establishing strong working relationship with the IT team The IT team is the first port of call when you’re in need of new or improved systems, and I doubt there is a contact centre in existence that does not have reliability on IT. As clearly spelt out in Diagram 1, they can make or break your strategy:TeamRed – putting business in the fast lane Source: ICMI Insight June 2008 TeamRed Solutions- Delivering better Business through Better Thinking - for more information visit our website at 3
  4. 4. As a contact centre manager, it can be extremely difficult to ensure that the CIO knows exactly what you need for your contact centre when:  You may be at the bottom of a long list of their priorities  They often face a complex and tedious justification and/or tendering process  There is sometimes a requirement that you fit within a corporate IT structure that you have had no input to, despite the fact it does not recognise your needs (often because senior management still does not understand their own contact centre)  You cannot simply by-pass the IT department. Bringing technology to the contact centre can be exciting and daunting, yet some suggest that the relationship can be a bit like trying to mix oil and water. A true partnership between contact centre leaders and IT can turn what you might see as “exciting & daunting” into the “effective and achievable” Why does disengagement happen? It takes two to tango, so to truly understand it you need to look at the issue from both perspectives – that of the contact centre manager, and that of the CIO. Only then will you understand that success is two way street. So firstly let us look at it from the business perspective Why do managers believe disengagement happens? In my experience I think there are three main contributors. 1. The use of “Smoke & Mirrors”TeamRed – putting business in the fast lane Some IT folk like to use jargon to confuse nontechnical business managers to either justify their recommendations, or hide the fact that they screwed up Like all contact centre managers, all IT pros -- even the very best -- screw things up once in a while. Some think they can take advantage of the fact that business managers (and even some high-level technical managers) dont have a good understanding of technology, and so try to get by using use jargon to confuse them when explaining why a problem or an outage occurred, or why your recommendation won’t work. As managers and staff are becoming more technically literate, they get better at spotting this, and so it can be a death warrant to the relationship. TeamRed Solutions- Delivering better Business through Better Thinking - for more information visit our website at 4
  5. 5. For example, the explanation as to why a financial application failed might be, "We had a major failure on the Server that runs that application - damn vendor!" What they preferred not to tell us is that the problem was actually caused byban update they applied, perhaps without the appropriate testing or understanding. 2. Blurred Vision Some IT professionals deploy technologies that do more to consolidate their own power or look good on their resume, rather than those that help the business. I know of one who embraces these first two points perfectly. Rather than select systems or applications which are truly best for the business itself, some IT professionals tend to select and implement technologies based on:  how well those technologies make the business dependent on IT  how good they will look telling their industry colleagues about the “bleeding edge” deployment; or  The size of the personal “incentive” from the vendor The GFC has tightened the market place considerably and as a result “incentives” being offered have blurred the vision of more than one clients IT leadership group over the past 12 months and now they are fighting to extract themselves from what are usually costly mistakes. For example, they might select a solution that requires specialized skills to maintain instead of a more turnkey solution; a CIO might have more of a Linux/UNIX background and so chooses a Linux-based solution over a Windows solution, even though the Windows solution is a better business decision (or, vice versa ). I am sure many readers can relate – I nick name them Nero’s – fiddling while Rome burns. Ten years ago I worked with one and am still trying to implement his “vision” while the enterpriseTeamRed – putting business in the fast lane capability has crumbled. 3. Failure to keep abreast of developments Failing to keep up with trends is a risk to all of us. The biggest roadblock to implementing new technologies can indeed be veteran CIO’s who fail to keep abreast of the IT evolution, or those who are emotionally tied to a particular application or deployment. Some enterprises could implement more leading edge stuff than they do. Often, one of the roadblocks to migrating to new technologies is not budget constraints or management objections; it can be the veteran techies in the IT department or equally, contact centre management that has failed to keep abreast of opportunities. TeamRed Solutions- Delivering better Business through Better Thinking - for more information visit our website at 5
  6. 6. Why do CIOs think it happens There are two sides to every good story, so now let’s consider the perspective of the CIO. Those whose opinions I respect suggest the following: 1. Lack of technical understanding amongst business managers. Some contact centre managers despite their lack of tech savvy, think they know it all. Sadly, in many situations, a manager’s technical expertise sometimes only extends to the last industry or vendor presentation or event they attended 2. Poorly Defined Business Case Too often the business assumes the IT department knows what they want - and fail to put the necessary effort or emphasis into the scoping document or discussions, and then blame IT for getting it wrong 3. Failure to respect IT’s knowledge Some managers fail to recognise their IT counterparts for the benefits delivered, and as a result they fail to seek guidance or engagement appropriately or at the appropriate stagesTeamRed – putting business in the fast lane So how do you spot both the successful and unsuccessful CIO? What other traits might you expect to see? TeamRed Solutions- Delivering better Business through Better Thinking - for more information visit our website at 6
  7. 7. Common characteristics of unsuccessful CIOs: The frequently observed characteristics of CIO’s who do not effectively engage with or enjoy the wholesome support of the business tend to be covered by the following: Acquire technology simply because its new CIOs who upgrade because its time to upgrade. When this habit manifests itself in this way, the unsuccessful CIO fails to realize there are sound business reasons to upgrade, such as:  Cost  Benefits to the company  Overcoming data compatibility issues Some CIO’s, because theyre interested in a technology try to find a way to work it into their businesses for that reason- not because it makes good business sense Exhibit a knee-jerk reaction against alternatives Unwillingness to consider suggestions from management, options like open source software, at least on some systems. Some CIOs and CTOs instantly say that if its free, its no good Create solutions in search of a problem The CIO with this habit will build products or provide services because they can or have the freedom to do so, not because the enterprise, or anyone else, needs them... It thrills them,TeamRed – putting business in the fast lane but does little to impress anyone else! Venture beyond competency level It is important to match good technical sense with good business sense, not using the operating environment as a personal development environment, or expecting the company to be driven by technology instead of being enabled by it. The impacts upon the business are severe and typically the CIO is not around to pick up the pieces Act as Director of Marketing CIOs who indulge in this habit not only develop products and solutions no one wants, they also think they know better than marketing how to sell anything. This has become a much TeamRed Solutions- Delivering better Business through Better Thinking - for more information visit our website at 7
  8. 8. bigger issue as the web drives so many marketing initiatives, and IT put the functionality ahead of the marketing strategy, or indeed the business need. An increasing number of enterprises have web strategies that are driven by IT, and as a consequence they are not aligned to the other distribution channels resulting in missed opportunities and low levels of customer acceptance They often fail to understand how technology and business can work together - the goal of (most) business is not technology, it is to make money. Technology is simply an enabler of, not the reason for our enterprises existence Dont communicate well with non-techs Sometimes they forget that most of their audience dont understand technology, and then often hire others with this same very bad habit. They must hire the right skills, but they must also train people to communicate with non-technology people in order to demonstrate their value. Where they do there is a marked difference in internal relationships, co- operation and business success. Common characteristics of successful CIOs The most successful CIO’s I have worked with or know typically display a range of quite different traits. They will demonstrate a range of the following positive attributes Skilled communicator In my experience, this is clearly is the most important. The reason is simple: CIOs can possess all the following positive traits and leadership qualities but if they cannot communicate effectively across the wider business they will struggle to get recognition orTeamRed – putting business in the fast lane respect for being great CIOs. Good supply management capability They are adept at working with those outside the company, particularly service and product vendors who may not have your company’s best interest at heart, to ensure the end result is the best result for the enterprise. Many a good manager has fallen victim to the great sales pitch, only for IT to rightly say after the event “If only you had involved us” A solid understanding of financials Having to understand a company’s financial climate is a dramatic shift away from the “back office” days of only a few years ago where CIOs (and business unit managers) limited their involvement to their departmental (operating) budget. Even more, the CIO must be able TeamRed Solutions- Delivering better Business through Better Thinking - for more information visit our website at 8
  9. 9. explain or suggest how the IT department can not only pay for itself but deliver improved financial performance across the business. Ability to think strategically to support the business’s goals and objectives The best IT leaders I have worked with have been a great asset in thinking strategically about how to utilise IT to reach company goals and objectives. They suggest technical services and solutions to meet the business’s needs and to help the enterprise meet its goals and objectives. They insist on knowing and sharing your vision to see where the business is going, and making IT strategy relevant to the successful pursuit of the company’s initiatives. In order this to be achieved there must be a very clear dialogue between the business and IT, which is covered below Managing expectations effectively A good CIO will be able to effectively communicate or market IT’s abilities and limitations internally, so that everyone is aware of the impacts on the company as it pursues its goals and objectives. This is best achieved by having a team that can think on its feet and develop appropriate solutions and strategies. Technically savvy Whilst it is possible for a department of IT experts to be managed by a person who isnt technically inclined, being technically savvy usually helps a CIO stand out. They need to know their field and how to leverage those technologies to help move the company forward, providing they embrace the other traits. Selecting a good teamTeamRed – putting business in the fast lane While a CIO should possess technical skills, any ability he or she lacks can sometimes be covered by through the talent on his or her team. Equally unless they seek to make themselves redundant, they limit the contribution they can make to strategic decisions. Choosing the best people to build a balanced and capable team is a skill, and this is often a challenge, as is ensuring the ongoing development of that team to meet changing business needs and demands. Ability to rally the troops Being a strong motivator can help build a strong team – well beyond the walls of IT. This can be as simple as CIOs expecting as much from their team as they do from themselves. Maybe it is the simple step of making IT accessible – not locked behind an impenetrable TeamRed Solutions- Delivering better Business through Better Thinking - for more information visit our website at 9
  10. 10. fortress. The driving need to succeed is important but should not be achieved at the expense of good management and engagement. Visionary but balanced outlook A CIO must be very forward-thinking and be able to see the company not only moving forward but visualising what it would be like if it was already being there. They need to be able to look beyond where the business is today, know where the business is going, and be able to position the IT department to ensure the enterprise gets there Politically astute Typically they can’t be avoided, but department politics can be turned into an obstacle or an asset by all of us. Like all managers, a CIO must be able to strike a delicate balance between building alliances and making good business decisions. What can a manager do to build the relationship? If we understand the foregoing points, what is it that contact centre managers can do to build strong relationships with their CIO? So who better to ask than a very successful IT manager. The following are based on his thoughts and experience. Engage IT early on in the planning phase Be it program of work, individual project, this FY’s strategic initiatives or in business strategy sessions. This not only demonstrates the desire to partner, but can save a lot of time and grief. How you engage IT can vary – a formal meeting process with stakeholders atTeamRed – putting business in the fast lane predetermined intervals. I have always found a monthly focus group involving IT, the contact centre, marketing and finance as great medium through which to explore and discuss IT projects and opportunities. In this way all stakeholders are engaged, and the decisions tend to be more balanced. And of course the level of trust grows through such transparency. But it does not need to be formal. I can’t think of many days where I did not share a coffee or an elevator conversation with my IT manager or his key team members. Then of course there was the weekly touch football game between the two areas!! Clearly communicate the business drivers What are you trying to achieve – e.g. automate process X or reduce call handling time for transaction Y or remove voice interaction for query Z by enabling and optimising self serve options. Too often because managers have a clear picture in their own heads, or TeamRed Solutions- Delivering better Business through Better Thinking - for more information visit our website at 10
  11. 11. understand the real impacts of the opportunity they fail to properly articulate the plan or vision to others, meaning the IT department is left to fill the gaps by making what are often incorrect assumptions- and then who do you typically blame? Those familiar with Whole Brain Thinking® or other profiling techniques will know that typically IT types and contact centre types have very different thinking patterns or preferences which lead to these communication gaps. So ask yourself – are you talking in terms they understand. Clearly communicate critical success factors What will be the measures of success for you as the business stakeholder (e.g. project spend < $XX, achieve delivery by X, see business benefit of?? in QY etc). Be specific and make sure they understood clearly as that may well shape the IT strategy or approach taken Clearly highlight your priorities Despite what many claim, everything is not priority #1, and more particularly, priorities can change over time. So make sure you apply a whole of business perspective in setting priorities, and keep IT abreast of any changed priorities. The focus group mentioned previously is a great medium though which to ensure a big picture view is taken, and it helps all managers to broaden their understanding and see their projects in the context of the total needs of the business. Provide a forum for discussion Make sure there is an opportunity/forum for the propeller heads (his words – not mine) to spend some time on the floor with the user base (e.g. allow a developer and system support person to buddy with a user for half a day or whatever is appropriate). As we all know written specifications don’t always translate our thoughts clearly to a developer or similar, inTeamRed – putting business in the fast lane much the same way as their descriptions can look like rocket science to us. However when they sit and see what a system user is trying to achieve they often are able to identify some quick wins as well as understanding the intent of what is trying to be achieved at a business level. This can guide their development and support work and often accelerate successful deployment. Set clear success criteria Make sure you are both able to measure the results and share success. Celebrate success across the teams. This could be as simple as a cheerful morning tea or social event but gets the two groups together and builds these relationships TeamRed Solutions- Delivering better Business through Better Thinking - for more information visit our website at 11
  12. 12. What Good Managers should not do: Create a list of X items to be done and mark each one of them as critical or number one. Most managers are all guilty of this form time to time, not just in their relationships with IT, so focus on realistic and objective approaches and you will achieve much more Be afraid to challenge the proposed solution All managers should be prepared to challenge proposals - not technically but at a business level. The stronger the relationship the easier this is, but you must be able to get IT to clearly demonstrate to you how your business issues will be addressed through their solution/project etc. When a relationship of respect and trust exists, projects will not proceed until this is the case. A well supported process of stakeholder sign off can avoid this Sit on the fence If you are asked to mediate business queries or disputes between the business and IT that get escalated then be sure to be a responsible stakeholder and provide clear and objective direction - you’ll win a lot of respect from the IT team by doing this. Leave the UAT process to the IT department Get involved - get in there as business people, accept some responsibility and own the result. You never know what you might learn. After all you are the ones who will be tryingTeamRed – putting business in the fast lane to use any resulting system/process. Don’t just sit back, and then blame IT if it does not meet expectation – after all whose fault is it? Fail to ask “Why?” Do not underestimate the value that an information worker can bring to your business through the questioning of established practices. Being able to clearly answer the question “why” should be critical for every business manager. Hopefully the foregoing discussion and suggestions will trigger some thoughts about how you as the Contact Centre Manager, and indeed your whole team might engage more effectively with your IT team so that ultimately you both achieve your objectives! TeamRed Solutions- Delivering better Business through Better Thinking - for more information visit our website at 12
  13. 13. In the end, it is all about communication: Whilst I have worked through some tough situations with IT managers and CIO’s over time, both as a consultant and manager, typically the fault lies on both sides of the fence and theTeamRed – putting business in the fast lane cause typically lies in some of the points highlighted in this article. Fortunately I have also had some great relationships with most of my IT counterparts, and indeed I found that when I clearly articulated my needs I finished up with a computer that worked just the way I wanted... TeamRed Solutions- Delivering better Business through Better Thinking - for more information visit our website at 13
  14. 14. (From Acknowledgement: I extend my considerable appreciation to Bruno Maluto, the best and most inspirational IT manager I ever worked with for his collaboration on this article ADDITIONAL CARTOONSTeamRed – putting business in the fast lane To view a full list of similar cartoons visit TeamRed Solutions- Delivering better Business through Better Thinking - for more information visit our website at 14