I recently spent some time with Robin Dement, Vice President, R&D-IT Medicines Development Capabilities at GlaxoSmithKline. Robin has a unique perspective on IT (Information Technology) since she started as a chemist in Research and Development at GSK. She is now responsible for managing relationships and prioritization across multiple R&D Executive members and scientific areas. Robin weighed in on why “IT is no longer IT” and shared her thoughts on how IT can effectively work with their business counterparts. She talked about how the old way of building applications doesn’t work anymore – “it’s not effective for IT to spend weeks gathering requirements and then going off and delivering a solution months later”. While Agile Scrum development approaches help, it’s more about aligning IT with the business, and ensuring that IT understands and can directly tie their daily activity to the bottom line of the business. It’s about delivering repeatable value-adding capabilities, not just functionality, and allowing the business users to determine the best way to leverage those capabilities. It’s about implementing a business ‘expert user’ teams that manage the change control and selling of new technical capability. IT should not be viewed as a profession anymore, it’s a craft - simply a way of doing business.
Here are a few of the concepts that caught my attention:
- “in many cases, there is not a good connection between IT and their customers – could I build that bridge?” – Especially in complex business or engineering domains, IT may hear what their users or customers have to say, but they may not truly understand the context, meaning, etc. Ideally you will have leadership or a business support team that is entrenched in the business domain and has an IT background. This allows IT to focus on what they are good at while the business support team uses their business knowledge to effectively introduce the IT capabilities to the end users. We in IT have to learn that technology is a consumer game these days. Businesses don’t need us to tell them how to use technology to benefit their lives – they are already doing that. How can IT up our game to help more readily, instead of being defensive of our ‘craft’?
- “change management is key… focus on what the future vs. the past” – Change can be disruptive, and in this era of outsourcing and downsizing, technical innovations can lead to concern about job status, prestige, scope of control, etc. Organizations distinguish their change management efforts on the part of the job that people like as well as the part of the job that people don’t like. The change message should emphasize conquering new challenges, optimizing their time by shifting from the mundane, elimination of tasks that allow them to provide greater value add. This relates to the SAS world for companies that need to modernize BASE SAS deployments – introducing new capabilities that reduce the amount of code that needs to be written is not a threat, it will allow SAS users to be more productive, to expand the number of analytic use cases they support, and to push analytics and their influence more pervasively across the organization. We have to get people focusing on the future – not on what they have been rewarded for in the past.
- “enterprise wide thinking is key” – For every step in their job, each employee should be able to tie their effort to a business goal – whether it is bottom line revenue growth, customer satisfaction, etc. If they understand that, the employee is more likely to be engaged, and will be positioned to have a greater impact on getting products and services out the door. Robin recalled several scenarios where the IT person, once empowered, started to introduce important their own improvements, and made comments like “I can help with that… if we do this it would be better… if we make this change it will impact the organization in this way”.
- “business has flipped in a decade, IT hasn’t flipped in 30 years” – We can all think of instances where business models have changed dramatically in very short order. Although technology has progressed at light speed, if we think about IT, it hasn’t changed radically in years. Certainly Agile Scrum development techniques have had an effect, but if we think about consumer usage of applications, we see a clear divide between that experience and the reality of corporate IT. The consumer world is now dominated by “there is an app for that”, consumers are able to access applications at a moment’s notice, they aren’t plagued by long and costly upgrades, and they aren’t required to go through training manuals and courses to understand how to use new apps. They listen to their friends, they experiment with things, they take what works for them and move on, it’s all very dynamic. Certainly there is a difference between an enterprise application and a mobile application, so they are not identical, but IT needs to do what it can to move to a model that is similar to the consumer experience.
- “if IT is trying to sell it, it won’t work, you need a business expert team” – The business is more likely to be receptive if they work with a business counterpart that has an in-depth understanding of the business or the business discipline. For example, think of the possibility of success when you have an IT resource interacting with a chemist – think about the translation that has to occur to facilitate requirements, training, etc. If an organization can implement a business support team that drives the interaction, it is more likely that the interaction with the chemist will be improved. You could argue that not every discipline is as complicated as scientific scenarios, but expecting IT to very quickly understand the business domain at the same level as marketing, manufacturing, sales professionals, etc., is a tall order. Better to have specific expertise that is also IT aware.
- “Analytics can help IT get there” – Analytics can be a key business enabler and IT (along with an integrated business support group) is well positioned to drive analytics across the enterprise. But that presumes that IT has a good understanding of the analytics lifecycle since analytics is not the same as building and deploying operational applications. IT must understand that the analytics infrastructure needs to be constructed to support an iterative analytics development and management approach. IT must work to get people out of a techie mindset so that they can provide capabilities that the data scientist or statistician needs to be effective. And it’s looking beyond technology and considering the people and process aspect.
Stay tuned for additional insights from Robin and others that are leading the way for IT innovation.