Hans Erickson, CIO and Senior VP from the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, came and spoke at Build IT Together this year about what it takes to develop an IT strategy. If you’re in the IT field, check out a summarization of his presentation below.

What’s the need?

Hans started off his presentation by saying,

“If you’re in IT, you are kind of at the epicenter at this rapid rate of change that we have going on in society right now.

It’s not just that there are numerous kinds and amounts of technologies that surround you at this very moment, it’s also that new technologies are continuing to rapidly increase. A strategy helps to sort through these new technologies, figure out what needs adoption and what doesn’t, meanwhile maintaining effective communication with others in the organization.

An IT strategy should seek to include workers from other organizational units to foster better understanding on both ends. IT workers need to understand what it is the others need – ‘others’ being everyone from the executives down to entry-level. In addition, they should be explaining why they do what they do, but being careful not to use ‘technical babble’ as he puts it. Hans cautions not to lose the workers in the complicated details but instead, focus on results. He says, “Becoming relevant to them is really important.”

Business-led IT

“If you don’t do it, they will,” was an event attendee’s response when asked the question: “What is ‘Shadow IT?’” (otherwise known as business-led IT). Basically, it’s when organizations that you provide IT support for actually take some IT work into their own hands to get things done, whether the actual IT employees know about it or not. It is especially easy for people to meddle with IT work when they’re working in the cloud, what Hans referred to as “our generations’ version of electricity.”

So, what should we think about business-led IT? While many may debate that it’s a bad thing, Hans encouraged us to embrace it. After all, those workers know their business requirements best, he said. In some cases, the IT staff might even slow things down, so this shadow-IT can be a good thing. It’s best not to look at it as a win-lose situation, but a win-win instead.

This all comes back to having clear communication woven into your IT strategy. Rather than being the IT staff that continually says ‘no’ to the other employees (in which case shadow IT may arise), try enabling them instead. If you’re willing to do this – to meet their needs without having them worry about the details – then they’ll “work with you with open arms,” Hans said. Take some time to survey your organization and find out areas you could improve in.

Strategy & budget

No one wants to fight a war over the budget. Make sure your IT staff focuses on how IT is operational, something that can be communicated as they work with other organizational units.

Clearly Hans’ IT staff has been doing just that – having great communication with others outside of the IT department. Recently they went through a 3-4 million dollar revenue hit which caused most units to make pretty large changes. There were two areas that were unaffected. First, the CEO determined that staffing wouldn’t be impacted by this revenue change. The second area? The IT budget. And that’s because every organization unit supported what IT was spending their money on. They knew it positively affected their productivity and so became defenders of the department because of it. That’s an awesome testimony of an IT strategy with clear communication.

Do you find ‘Shadow IT’ helpful? Why or why not?

Want to get a re-cap of (Newmind Group) Dan Jefferies’ talk about innovation? Go here.
Matt Mace’s (BlueGranite, Inc.) presentation about big data in businesses? Find a summary here.