Transform IT into DT

I’ve had the pleasure of working with dozens of great IT leaders, across various industries.  These leaders seem to share the same priorities – create business value, make and keep commitments to clients, and deliver quality solutions built for sustainable success.  Also, these leaders always act as “partners” with their clients – clarifying purpose, proposing solutions, and resolving conflicts that threaten project success.  But, the “best of the best” have gone one step further and moved their organizations from information technology (IT) to decision technology (DT).

 

The Information Technology Association of America defined IT as “the study, design, development, application, implementation, support or management of computer-based information systems.”  I define DT as the process of engaging stakeholders to define, inform, implement, and evaluate solutions that address strategic business challenges.  IT is about information systems; DT is about strategic decisions.

 

Even with the best intentions, IT can get too focused on the tools – information, storage, security, access, display, etc.  Of course, tools provide an important part of the value.  But I believe that more value comes from helping clients identify, make, implement, and evaluate business critical decisions.  From my coaching experience, I’ve come to see that managers approach their work from the viewpoint of problem solving, and that DT can make an important contribution in the following ways.

  • Problem Identification – Dashboards have long been the rage, but the goal should be issue identification, not reporting.  Managers expect to deal with problems, but they hate being surprised.  With DT, effective identification begins by understanding the client’s definition of what makes an issue critical.
  • Problem Analysis – The challenge here is not simply providing information, but making it relevant to the client’s view of the problem.  Quantity is less important than quality, and the standard should be what information the client sees as both relevant and valid.
  • Options Generation – This is the key step where technological knowledge comes into play.  With DT, the goal is to provide options that enable the client to achieve measurable business results on this problem, plus provide the foundation for sustainable success.
  • Deployment – This step is perhaps the most important.  Business value is realized only when solutions are actually adopted and used as designed.  IT often struggles with the influence and conflict resolution required for effective adoption, and they can even go so far as to leave the client alone to manage the adoption challenge.
  • Evaluation – With DT, it’s not enough to claim value, you also need to help the client develop and deploy relevant and valid measures that can measure value creation.

 

So, how do you transform IT into DT?  As you might expect, the challenge is less about technical skills, and much more about how you engage with clients.  Another key factor is can you attract or develop people who have the willingness and capability to have strategic influence conversations with clients.  Following are some steps to get you started.

  1. Renegotiate expected contribution.  This is always the first step in transforming IT into DT.  The CIO or other senior leader must influence clients to accept a different contribution, specifically focused on creating a measurable impact, and aligned around informing and implementing decisions and actions.
  2. Redefine performance measures.  Some part of IT will likely remain focused information and tools, but the part concerned with DT will need new measures.  Too often, IT measures itself on actions or deliverables – not on creating some new result or effect.  The DT function must be measured on creating a change in results, with actions or deliverables as simply milestones on the path.
  3. Adapt process and methods.  Some part of your team will need to shift away from traditional functional silos and processes and into problem solving teams.  Members will draw on their traditional IT skills but they must also have capability to identify client interests and concerns, identify latent needs, adapt tools for new application, and manage performance and conflict related to deployment.
  4. Build strategic perspective and skills.  The final step is to develop the perspective and skills needed to work in the DT style.  While you may need to help people develop some of the skills listed above, the bigger challenge will be to help them shift perspective so they can function “on par” with former authority figures.