Nov 01 2006

Full, Honest and Enthusiastic Participation

Involving all stakeholders is important, but it's not enough to ensure an effective information technology strategy.


Photo: Dan Bryant
Michael Willoughby

No critical corporate process, including crafting a strategic IT plan, budget or project, can be considered successful without full, honest and enthusiastic participation from key stakeholders. Yet we all know that’s something much easier said than accomplished.

A big part of the job involves technology strategy and tactics. Tactics easily fall into place when the strategy is sound. But part of taking the strategic view involves looking to the future and anticipating the change, growth, challenges and needs of the organization.

Foster Motivation

It’s a difficult process to predict future requirements, especially since most people are hesitant to step out on a limb and be accountable for future needs. That’s where you come in. You have to find a way to motivate people and challenge them to enjoy, even relish, the process of envisioning a future with technology answers to the problems that will stymie growth and inhibit innovation.

Few people would actually look forward to an IT strategic planning session. But if we don’t continually reinforce the need to have these sessions, provide a positive meeting environment and bring our best effort to the meeting each time, the process quickly fails and we revert to being reactive and defensive rather than proactive and visionary with regard to the IT road map.

We continually assess the IT team’s performance against operational, developmental, financial and governance objectives. The IT management team meets weekly to conduct an operational review, discuss priorities and align resources. Monthly and annual budgets, as well as rolling forecasts, hold the entire IT organization accountable and evaluate our performance based on what really matters to the business.

We strongly believe that you can’t evaluate what you can’t measure, and without accurate measurement of results there can be no accountability to a set of objectives. Using a variety of tools, we have developed a disciplined practice around accounting for IT resource usage and allocation to specific projects. We use this project allocation information to create a “feedback loop” to evaluate performance in light of our project objectives and hold ourselves accountable.

Our business is a changing landscape with changing priorities. The plan may call for “X” dollars to improve your infrastructure, but you might choose to decrease that amount to focus on other priorities that have an immediate return. Growth, which usually occurs by taking on new clients, is our top priority.

Pick a Priority

Each year we create a list of capital improvement projects, but those may take a back seat if needed. The flexibility of this “optional” project list, combined with the commitment to our top priority of supporting growth, empowers the IT team to redirect limited resources in serving the best interests of the company and its shareholders while still remaining accountable to defined objectives.

The bottom line is this: The modern IT function is a means to an end and should never be self-serving. Every company’s IT team and leadership should keep this in mind and focus like a laser on the end game for the business, as defined by the business’ objectives. After all, what more can any IT professional ask than to be provided with a sound strategy, be given the resources to achieve the strategic objectives and then be evaluated and rewarded based on performance against that strategy?

Michael Willoughby is CIO of PFSweb, an outsourcing logistics and Web commerce retailer in Plano, Texas.