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Coming from the operations side of the business, I know what it’s like to be IT’s customer. Quite simply, I want what I want, when I want it. Ideas for operational innovations could happen on a daily basis as we discover new customer demands, more efficient processes, etc.
Naturally, then, upon hearing the discussion about IT’s role as an innovation-enabler at the last CIO summit in Philadelphia, I felt a sense of urgency to investigate the topic further.
I decided to interview Kevin Apperson, the CIO and 13-year veteran of Allegis Group, TEKsystems’ $6 billion parent company.
When I shared the CIO summit’s guest speaker’s opinion that IT is not seen as innovative — in fact, they tend to be seen as “slowing innovation down” — Kevin’s first response was “I’m not surprised.” There are several reasons innovation is a challenge for IT (see note on Key Innovation Challenges for IT). He then proceeded to discuss how he effectively battles this challenge on a daily basis.
Insight: Despite the fact that innovation in an IT organization isn’t easy, below are a few recommendations both Kevin and I have seen work well at Allegis Group, as well as at other client companies I’ve consulted with:
To effectively serve the nation’s largest technology staffing and services company, this is Kevin’s mantra. His end customers — the sales force and recruiting populations — are successful only if they can satisfy their clients and consultants. Thus, the more IT understands their customer’s customers top value drivers and challenges, the better positioned they are to innovatively support their own customers in winning business and delivering value.
While Kevin has yet to 100% cement his mantra into daily IT operations at Allegis Group, he is making substantial progress by developing business SMEs on his staff. Through planting his best businessminded IT employees into our operations, his department gains a real-time line of sight into his customer’s goals and challenges. A curious nature is an essential characteristic of a successful SME; they ask insightful questions that foster their own understanding, while illuminating issues and opportunities the business might not otherwise perceive. These folks are also able to seamlessly translate business requirements into IT terms that bring fresh ideas to life. As a result, the more traditional “techies” on Kevin’s team gain the necessary understanding to go beyond designing cool technical tools — they can deliver truly innovative business solutions.
Kevin and his direct reports host periodic forums with business leaders to discuss the strategies and operations guiding our decisions — and to determine how IT can help drive them. Since leaders can easily grow tired of such discussions if they perceive them to “go no where,” Kevin ensures he has a strong meeting facilitator and wins the attendance of key decision makers. Each meeting is then able to conclude with agreed upon commitments and timelines that move projects forward.
For his team to be productively innovative on a day to day basis, moreover, Kevin cascades the information discovered and discussed in these leadership meetings. Every IT employee, no matter what their specific role, is required to understand the customer’s (customer’s) goals and business needs. Without this context, it is impossible to prioritize IT projects, let alone add strategic value to them.
Kevin is currently in the process of connecting his IT leaders with the business leaders to collaboratively develop performance standards for IT. He understands that, if innovation is not included in IT’s definition of “success” — and thereby incorporated into performance reviews of the function and the individuals within it — you can bet “innovative” will not be an overwhelming characteristic of his IT organization.
Author: Mike McSally, Vice President of Enterprise Operations at Allegis Group
People are at the heart of every successful business initiative. At TEKsystems, we understand people. Every year we deploy over 80,000 IT professionals at 6,000 client sites across North America, Europe and Asia. Our deep insights into IT human capital management enable us to help our clients achieve their business goals – while optimizing their IT workforce strategies. We provide IT staffing solutions, IT talent management expertise and IT services to help our clients plan, build and run their critical business initiatives. Through our range of quality-focused delivery models, we meet our clients where they are, and take them where they want to go, the way they want to get there.
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