Undercover CIO: Adopting Sustainable Solutions

Undercover CIO in Best Practices September 06, 2019

The role of IS/IT is not about successfully delivering system projects, it’s about ensuring the adoption of sustainable solutions. Let that sit with you for a minute while I first explain what I mean by sustainable solutions, and then I’ll dive into how and why it’s important.

A sustainable solution includes a tangible piece of software, but this is only part of it. It’s the know-how of each business unit’s processes and the industry’s leading practices, as well as an understanding of the technology that can improve all of it. It’s also having the ability to train and stick around to encourage employees to adopt that new solution. It’s an understanding that the job is not done at the end of delivery and hypercare, but that the job continues for up to six, nine, or even 24 months after.

Now that we’ve established this as the foundation of your IS/IT team’s function, we can move on to defining what the team’s role is in adopting a sustainable solution.

The Role of IT/IS: Reality Versus the Ideal

Traditionally, IT/IS has supported two types of shops: a package shop that primarily leverages software such as SAP, and a custom shop that goes out and creates its own unique solutions. The custom shops are the ones that tend to have more talent assigned to them because they’re doing all the work themselves. So traditionally, the role of IS/IT has been to say, “Okay, tell me how you want me to do something and I’ll figure out the most efficient way to develop it.”

For the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on package shops, which have created an environment where the IS/IT team says, “Tell me what you want, and I’ll go figure how to configure or customize the software to do it.” With this approach, many times the team will know how to make the software do what a function or business unit wants it to do as opposed to understanding and knowing when to say, “We can do it this way, but that’s not the best way to meet your business needs.”

A Tech-First Approach or a Solution-First Approach?

Traditionally, the IS/IT team has employed a tech-first approach where it delivers software that is properly tested and business users are initially trained, and the team moves on to the next project. Ideally, the IS/IT team should focus on a solution-first approach with the know-how that the solution is not necessarily the application only, but a solution to the whole problem or opportunity. And, it’s not just about handing it over with some initial training, but sticking around long after to observe that the business is using it correctly and adjusting where and when any adjustments are needed.

IS/IT teams should be asking:

  • Do we have a process in place to make sure we have the right talent to use this software?
  • Has our talent learned how to leverage it properly?
  • How do we continue to improve how we leverage this new technology?
  • How do we ensure that the business processes we’re using now are efficient and effective?
  • How do we measure success?
  • Are we meeting with our business units to strategize?
  • How do we remain agile in the face of constant change and continue to support this technology?

All that is on top of, “Here’s your software.”

Getting Through the Roadblocks

Through the years, IS/IT teams have allowed themselves to be boxed into a corner. They have focused on technology and its application as requested, and nothing more.

Most IS/IT teams have just kept current with the technology. They have not paid attention to leading industry standards and leading practices. In today’s world, if you just keep current with technology and nothing more, your job can very well be outsourced. You need to understand the technology, but it is far more important to understand how to address business units and functional issues within your organization.

The measure of success is when a business unit will not make a tactical or strategic decision or do something differently without having IS/IT represented at the table. And, it is the CIOs responsibility to clear the path for this to happen and do so by building relationships at the top level, while also paying close attention to their team to assign the right people to the right jobs.

The Risk of the Status Quo

It can be easy to step back and decide what you have in place right now is working just fine. So, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? I can tell you from experience why it’s important to fix it.

At one company I worked for, one of our manufacturing locations was run by a site manager who was technically savvy and really knew how to leverage technology. The resources within the IS/IT team that were supporting that site got along well, but spent their time customizing—not configuring—solutions to make the site the most efficient, effective site in the world. The team was delivering software, the business was using it, and things were going great.

But as the world changed, the competition changed, the customer needs changed, and the business needs also changed with it. But what didn’t change, was the site manager’s ability to keep up with all of it. They were so locked into the software application and how they did the job versus understanding the processes that they almost went out of business. Just because it ain’t broke today doesn’t mean it can’t break tomorrow.

Take Sensible, Sustainable Steps Toward Success

Now that we know the how, what, and why, let’s talk about what’s next. First, focus your IS/IT talent on being the best they can in understanding leading processes enabled by technology. That’s key.

The second thing I’d recommend is to audit your workforce. At another company, we just did some headcount right-sizing beyond what we needed to so that we can hire individuals who have more business process/function knowledge. It’s easier to get them up to speed on the software versus them being the gurus of the software and not knowing anything about the business processes.

You need to have legacy and new talent, plus a new mindset in terms of what everyone’s role is. By taking these steps you’ll begin to change the mindset and move toward adopting sustainable solutions that make the most sense for your business.

If you have a question and/or have other suggestions, please reach out to undercovercio@asug.com. If you’re an executive, you can join us at our local and national ASUG Executive Exchange events to network with other executives looking to get more value from their SAP systems.