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Business Intelligence, Business Process Improvement and more

Business Process Improvement, Business Intelligence - both are key to maximizing organizational success. Westminster College is getting with the times by undertaking major projects in both areas. Scott Lowe introduces their efforts and will build on this posting in a series of future posts.

There are a ton of buzzwords out there: IT/business alignment (I hate this term, by the way), business intelligence, business process improvement, and the list goes on... and on.  Moving forward, I will become intimately familiar with these buzzwords as well as the meaning behind them.

A little background...

 I have the good fortune of reporting to the president of Westminster College and having a seat on the exectutive committee where direction and strategy are discussed and enacted.  Over the past few days, the executuve committee, all of our "key reports" (directors) and some of the College's trustees participated in a planning retreat, which was a continuation of planning work done in years past.  Believe it or not, this retreat was quite productive and helped everyone determine some things we can do to move forward.

As a College, we consider Jim Collins' book Good to Great as a great guiding work as we make plans to move forward.  If you're not familiar with the book, in it, Collins and his team spent years studying why some companies make the leap from good to great while others in the same line of business simply remain good.  It's actually a really good read.  There is a chapter in the book about the use of technology in an organization's transformation.  The basic premise is this: For all of the companies that made the leap to greatness, none did so by using technology alone.  Instead, technology was used as an accelerator to make progress happen faster and to reduce inefficiences.  When you really think about it, this premise makes a lot of sense, unless you're a technology company.  For example, if your company makes a really horrible product, doesn't market it well, and sells it below cost, all the technology in the world isn't going to help you.  It all starts with a sound strategy, and technology is leveraged to make things happen faster.

A lot came out of this session for IT that will help me to define our long range goals.  This session helped people to finally "open the floodgates" and think about their areas from a higher-level view.  Whereas some areas may have felt that everything was just fine from a process standpoint, once we started talking, there was a realization that we, as a team, can do so much more if we get to a point where things are more automated. 

At the executive level, we're big believers in data-driven decision making and metrics.  Having good access to information helps everyone.  When Admissions knows that they're short on recruiting female students for the incoming class, they know that they need to redouble their efforts in that segment.  Likewise, when the Development (fundraising) department knows--in real-time--that they've made their goal in one area, they can use the resources in that area to help others achieve their goals.  And, in the president's office, a key performance indicator dashboard helps him ask the right questions during his weekly one-on-one meetings with each of his Vice-Presidents.  For example, it's better to ask IT in the middle of the year why they're being projected as missing their annual budget than it is to ask after a final annual budget review why they were 10% over budget.  Early indicators help the entire organization stay on track.  This is Business Intelligence.  Of course, BI is very different on a college campus than it is in a fortune 500, but the end goal is the same.

Over the course of the next few months, each business unit will, in concert with me, identify processes that are candidates for improvement.  I am assigned the job of coordinating this rather significant task.  Once everything is compiled, the executive team and I will prioritize the list and IT staff will then work with each business unit to begin to delve more deeply into exactly what needs to be done.  We do have some seriously low hanging fruit.  For example, timesheets.  I rarely take vacation, so every month, I have to sign and submit a blank timesheet to payroll.  A blank timesheet.  The payroll person then inputs the information from every timesheet on campus and everyone gets paid.  I can think of a ton of ways to make this better.

I'm really excited about this whole effort.  This is exactly the kind of stuff I got into IT for.  Ok... I really got into it because I liked gadgets and computers, but my thinking has changed a lot over the past few years.  This is really the kind of stuff that got me interested in a CIO job.  I see IT as a huge puzzle with pieces from all over the organization, including outside the IT organization.  My job is to make sure that all the pieces fit together just so.

Now, you might be asking why we aren't doing something more radical, like moving to all online classes.  The reason: That's not what we do.  We're a residential campus and it's important for us to maintain our core values.  We're simply using technology to create efficiencies and to help everyone make better decisions.  In the past year, we have worked with the new VO over our Admissions department to help them seriously change their processes and the results have been spectacular.

If you have an interest in this topic, please leave me a comment.  If enough of you want me to, I'll report back on this project from time to time.  This is the ground floor for BPI/BI stuff in my organization.  We're moving beyond the "technology" and into the "information" part of "Information Technology."

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

20 comments
gerald.kaforski
gerald.kaforski

I work for local Government for a mid sized city. We have been working through this process for over a year now. I myself am an IT/Systems professional, but I am also heavily involved in the planning processes for our Government. Some topics have emerged as being very important. 1. The overaching critical factor is that the business side has to be good at explaining just what "Moving Forward" or any other catch phrase means. The way to explain is to lay out clear plans. We have invested alot of time in defining the Strategic Plan for the overall Government. This has been accomplished through executive coaching, by taking a hard look at priorities, and by identifying the processes that produce positive change. We have 6 strategic platforms and 9 strategic initiatives that tackle cross enterprise issues that involve multiple Departments. Now we are bringing the process down into the Departments where strategic and operational plans are being formulated. The end results will be documentation of our programs of change, a concise documentation of the programs to be provided by each department, and a list of process improvement priorities. The business side has alot of work to do to work through these issues, but by documenting these issues clearly we now have a clear path ahead. As an IT person, this sets expectations quite clearly and we can all start marching forward together. 2. With expectations set, IT and other support groups can much more easily provide recommendations that help across the enterprise and major enterprise sub groups while focusing on the things that really matter to those we support. This is real alignment. I believe now that our internal programs of change for IT are now laid out for the next several years. Some tweaks will have to be made, but the general ideas are very clear. 3. It is essential that the projects, programs, and process improvements that come out of the planning process are vetted for feasibility and impact. Good decision making information helps the business key in on their priorities. We are getting to a point where this vetting process makes decision making much easier. At the same time, it is much easier for us in Technology to see the logic of the process and also to describe the costs that will be associated with the proposals. 4. It is essential that the business make the decisions on what the IT investment should be in any initiative. Again, with good decision making info, our ability to characterize the cost of improvements is enhanced. The result is that reality creeps in and we don't go off on wild goose chases as frequently. 5. Finally-it is absolutely essential the Technology folks get a seat at the planning table. I would go so far as to say that often IT has to be the leader in transformation. Our central technology departments has invested heavily in developing us as Service Level Managers and also in project management and planning. People like me have become translators between Business and Technology. This has been very fruitful. If all you do in the technology department is take care of equipment then you may want to think strongly about developing people to bridge the expectation gap. It has paid off for us.

linda.wilkins
linda.wilkins

Good luck with your endeavor. I am sure this will be an eye-opener for the campus! Please keep us posted on your progress...we can all benefit from your experiences.

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

I will try to avoid the phrase "moving forward." :-)

thegentree
thegentree

I would love to hear more on it. Most of what I have done is Business Process Improvement. I loved the book From Good to Great, though I did think it was a but dry, he concept was great. Another great book that I felt moved me in the right direction was You Inc, Crucial Conversations and the Influencer. When making changes especially you have to be strong, know how to interact with people and know how to move them in the direction of where you want them to go. Please keep us up to date on how the project is going and please feel free to ask us any questions or suggestions. I would be happy to help and be a aprt of this, even from the sidelines. Yeah team (insert college name here)! TTYL

sfenner
sfenner

I would very much like to know how you progress. I have always worked from the perspective of how to improve our processes. But I sometimes get stumped on which set of metrics to monitor, or worse yet, figuring out what the leadership team thinks is most important.

glass2dl
glass2dl

Please report back on this project. I am in a similar situation and it's always nice to hear how other companies/colleges "move forward."

assaadp
assaadp

Very interesting subject...details of your experience could help others.

peter.2.wells
peter.2.wells

Some thoughts, based on experience, which you may find useful. Before going too far with identifying candidate projects, you should make sure there is a solid Governance Structure in place to oversee, support and manage the overall improvement initiative. An effective Governance Structure will be helpful for projects that are going well, but invaluable for those that are struggling. Key to deciding which projects to undertake will be determining which projects will deliver most value to the College and can be managed within available resources. You may find portfolio management techniques particularly useful for this. Portfolio management provides methods for objectively evaluating the candidates in line with an organisation?s strategic objectives, providing a relative ?business value? for each candidate (rather than just financial value, etc.). Using the ?business values? and identifying the resources required for each candidate (finance, staff time, etc.) you can identify the best value combination of projects that can be managed within the available resources. Be careful when identifying staff resources as it is easy to over-commit individuals or staff groups particularly where they may be a specialist or scarce resource. Once you have identified the projects to carry forward, each project becomes a Business Transformation project supported (or enabled) by IT. Therefore all of the techniques of Business Transformation need to be used; stakeholder management, benefits realisation, etc.).

prem_is
prem_is

Scott, I can understand the exitement of your role and the changes for the better that you can bring in. While you might have the commitment from the VPs, do you face the wall when you try to get information from the level below that? While you might think that you are given the information you asked, they might be totally useless. How did/do you go about extracting the info? Cheers, Prem

PipBoy78
PipBoy78

I have worked for 2 large corporations in the last two years, and both love the phrase 'Moving Forward'. A young girl who was recently promoted into a training role said to me 'Moving forward, we need to image these computers - Moving forward.' My old boss used it 5 times in 1 five minute talk. My new boss said 'Moving forward, you guys will get the training you need, this is all part of 'Moving forward'. Every power point presentation has at least 3 'Moving Forward' statements in it. So I'm sorry, I just couldn't get past your first paragraph, those words 'Moving Forward' are buzz words that drive me insane.

gerald.kaforski
gerald.kaforski

It sounds like you have addressed all of the critical issues in your effort. Its great to hear about your situation. Good luck and enjoy the benefits. Looking forward to hearing more

lina.lawrence
lina.lawrence

I think that's great. Well done for some sensible thinking. For a number of years, IT sees themselves as needing to take control of systems, rather than collaborating with the business to getting most out of the business (and this 9/10 has a flow on to getting the most of the tool, unless you're using the wrong tool). I would love to hear of your progress from time to time.

roger.zorzan
roger.zorzan

I have been doing business process improvement projects for 10 years now. Started out in Switzerland and now i'm working in Houston, TX. A very important role in BPI projects is the COO (if there is one in your organization) or the CEO. If you do BPI for an organization you have to make sure you approach the subject bottom up. What i always do is create interview templates, they might vary depending on the size of the organization. If you then start interviewing the users first, then their managers and finally the department heads you will quickly find out that the pains are mostly not the technology they are using rather than internal communication gaps and historical processes that have never been modified. A business process is a living thing and subject to constant changes in many cases. The technology must be able to be flexible enough to implement these processes and maintain them.

roodj
roodj

I read your thoughts with the mindset of managing IT as a business as well as improving business processes for the rest of the organization. It seems that IT tends to focus on managing the technology when both the technology and the business processes around managing an organization need to be managed.

lastchip
lastchip

is an appalling phrase. It's misused consistently and more to the point, only has any meaning if whatever is supposed to be moving forward, actually happens. In the vast majority of cases, it doesn't. Moving sideways may be more apt. However, Scott's project does indeed sound interesting and I look forward to reading more about it in the future, particularly as he has clearly already achieved some success with admissions.

scoombes
scoombes

'Round here I've been noticing how many people are, quite independently of each other, telling me whether they "have a dog in this hunt." Well, it is what it is. :)

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

That's exactly how I feel about the phrase "IT/Business alignment" so I understand where you're coming from!

john.decoville
john.decoville

"Moving forward": Overused and will end up in the Trash-Heap of clich?s. What is wrong with "from now on" or "beginning now" or... ? "Clich?" in French means an outlined drawing, cartoonish illustration, snap-shot with a connotations of being over-used, trite, etc. In newspapers, in context, "Clich?" is shot a photograph. The English language and other European languages are loaded with slang, slogans and so on. Some of them are regularly resurrected after the generation that used them are dead. -John

john.decoville
john.decoville

The phrase, "Iron Curtain" was coined at Westminster College in 1946 by Winston Chruchill during his address to the Students. That phrase meant a lot to us for 50+ years. This phrase is a little more weighty and now forgotten. "Moving forward" will be forgotten faster than those 70's phrases were. -John Scott, is the bust of Winston Churchill still there?

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

It's still here, along with the longest contiguous section of the Berlin wall in North America and a $4 million museum dedicated to Churchill.