Recently we helped a multichannel client develop a strategic approach to replacing 45 systems that had been implemented over 25 years. More than 75% of them were best-of-breed systems scheduled to sunset in the next three to five years. The rest were developed in house and have extensive interfaces exchanging data.
All the systems provided information services to the call center, customer service, warehousing, purchasing, inventory management, accounting, content management, the website and its support systems including credit processing, marketing services and shipping.
In the end, hundreds of people in the company rely on order management, fulfillment, website systems and content management to do their work and service customers. As is the case with many multichannel companies, responsibility for ongoing support and strategic direction at this company is in the hands of a small group of IT people.
During meetings with company management, the conversation turned to what differentiates a highly effective IT department from an average one in an organization. To help ensure yours falls under the former case, here are some key considerations based on our experience:
They Have a Service Orientation
In many multichannel organizations, there is still de facto “empire building” where every aspect of current and future systems is controlled by IT. In some companies, IT is a bottleneck in terms of just getting basic reports to run the business.
The idea of IT being an internal service provider to your organization starts at the top with management and the IT director. The user departments are true partners in the systems acquisition and planning strategy.
We also see an effective IT team doesn’t hide behind technical mumbo jumbo. Instead they build relationships with user departments and senior management to help them get their work done through a myriad of systems.
IT needs strong managers who are good communicators. These individuals will document, prioritize and update management and set direction for implementing system enhancements and user support. Obviously management has to endorse this type of charter and provide the necessary budget.
They Understand Your Multichannel Business
Management at multichannel companies generally looks to senior IT leadership to understand their business and find solutions to help grow it. In larger companies, IT directors participate in management planning meetings.
Rather than just being concerned with technology, they have a management charge to understand the company’s business and systems and how it can gain more benefit from them. Unfortunately in many companies the IT staff has limited exposure to the industry and how they do business, rarely understanding how department functions at a detailed level.
We have a couple recommendations to consider:
- As new IT professionals join the company, have them work for a couple of weeks to a couple of months in different departments for exposure – especially ones they’re going to support directly. This will give them a real-world grounding in your company’s operations and installed systems.
- Secondly, send them to at least one key conference annually to broaden their industry knowledge. An excellent one is Multichannel Merchant’s Ecommerce Operations Summit (April 3-5, 2018, Columbus, OH).
- Third, have them develop a personal network of industry contacts. Start with attendees, vendors and consultants at a conference. They’re great resources for the future but you have to be intentional in making contacts to gain any value.
They’re Willing to Outsource If Needed
This goes back to the “empire building” issue I raised earlier. Many IT departments have an attitude of “if it’s not invented here, it’s not going to work.” We have seen multi-million-dollar conversions move at a snail’s pace because IT had to control all the major pieces of the implementation. They often won’t consider contract programmers to help design file conversion programs or program interfaces; in our view they can bring along industry knowledge companies lack. Management gets told the internal team can handle it, or that budget is an issue. Ironically as a result, on-time implementations and budget both suffer.
To meet the demands of PCI/DSS compliance in one multichannel client project, IT kept it internal rather than contracting it out. This consumed the entire department, delivering a poorly thought-out solution costing six figures.
They Have Direction from Senior Management
A steering committee and a management sponsor gives them support and budget in line with company objectives. We’re not saying go out and spend more money but simply be open to how budget may drive the outcome.
Great strategic plains often depend on great performance from IT. When these four attributes become part of your IT culture, it will help tremendously in terms of system implementation and department/user support.
Curt Barry is Chairman of F. Curtis Barry & Company