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When your company is changing directions but the business strategy hasn't been set, IT can be left in limbo. Here are four ways IT leaders can keep the team productive while dealing with uncertainty.
A company's IT is what takes it to the top of operational and strategic efficiency, but what do you do if you're leading IT and your company is in transition? If the transition is major, such as determining whether you need to change your brand or even your entire business model, it becomes difficult to make major investments into IT when you're not quite sure what types of technology will be needed.
An excellent example is the grocery business.
When Amazon acquired Whole Foods for $13.7 billion in June, 2017, traditional grocery stores were put on notice that online sales competition for groceries would heighten and that Amazon was now in a position to compete with brick-and-mortar "on the ground" stores.
"When Amazon assessed its ability to serve the grocery market, it saw one gaping hole," said Jim Tompkins, supply chain and strategy expert and CEO of Tompkins International and Monarch FX. "It did not have a brick-and-mortar presence. It filled this hole with the Whole Foods acquisition and it has the ability with its supply chain, warehousing, and distribution network to serve multiple channels."
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Tompkins said, "If you're a traditional grocery store chain and must now compete with a large online presence with formidable warehousing and logistic capabilities, you might be asking yourself how you will be able to compete with that model and those levels of resources and talent."
That's exactly the inflection point that major grocery chains have reached They are up against an online behemoth that now has a foothold in the brick-and-mortar world, and they have to compete with that—when many of them are still running their brick-and-mortar stores much as they did 35 years ago.
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Understandably, there is active strategy making going on in these organizations—and if you're in charge of IT, you already know that most of the strategic "change load" is going to fall on IT. The problem is this: You're going to need time to implement the new IT that will be required to modernize the business, but you can't really do that much when you don't know where the company is going strategically.
So how do you deal with this uncertainty, and still keep IT positioned to act quickly—which your stakeholders will surely ask you to do once the strategizing is over?
1: Investigate relevant technologies
If a chain that has operated brick-and-mortar stores wants to improve its online sales channel, then e-commerce, web portal, mobile app access, secure payment, a merchandise pickup and return process, order processing and routing, supply chain system optimization, social media and marketing, supplier onboarding, logistics support, purchasing, and governance will all likely to be needed and/or affected. Some of the systems you'll have to change are already in-house. In other cases, new technologies will need be brought on board and should researched by your senior people. The goal is to already be familiar with the possible technologies you might need to add to your IT so that when business strategy gets set, you are ready to roll and not in a learning mode on the tech.
2: Identify common business processes if your organization decides to go multi channel
If your organization's decision is to open up brick-and-mortar and online channels for doing business and to then route goods to customers for either online or in-store delivery, a good place for your business analysts to begin is by identifying the common systems and functions that are used by all channels of order fulfillment. In the grocery example, these common functions are likely to include purchasing, inventory, logistics, the supply chain, sales and order taking, and perhaps even marketing. The reason you want to identify these common systems and functions is that multiple channels can use them without a need for major changes, and that is going to save you time and money.
3: Keep your staff busy on relevant projects
One of the hardest things for aggressive IT executives to do is to mark time while business strategy gets defined. CIOs dislike this because they want to keep staff motivated and engaged. To do that, you can't have staff doing busy work. Instead, look for value-added building block projects that can be done in the interim and that will contribute to the ultimate business strategy that is decided upon. One of these projects might be database or data mart development for analytics. Another might be the development of new APIs (application programming interfaces) that can bridge standalone systems. A third might be the deployment of new mobile apps and devices that strengthen your presence and expertise in mobile technologies and deployment.
4: Get yourself invited to strategy sessions
All too often, IT gets left behind when the conference room doors close and C-level executives discuss strategy. If you're leading IT, don't let this happen to you. Ask to attend the meetings if you are not invited. The earlier you can get a heads-up on where the organization is heading, the better you can position yourself for the heavy load of work that IT will inevitably be called upon to do.