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.”