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12 steps to IT serenity

The article is written by Taveesak Saengthong, managing director of SAS Software (Thailand) Co Ltd.

             Bangkok (28 March 2013), I recently read about how Absa Bank, part of the Barclays Group and a large financial services firm in Africa addressed major challenges like market differentiation, risk management and anti-money laundering with analytics. And in finding out how it overcame challenges to bridge the gap between IT and business, I couldn't help but latch on to the "12 Steps of IT Serenity" outlined in the story. I've listed them below along with commentary from my background as an IT leader. Do any of these resonate with you?

             

          

1. Take a good, long look in the mirror.

This is good advice no matter what your discipline. I think this is really critical for IT leaders - we forget that we are NOT in the line of business that drives revenue. We may get frustrated with what we think are unreasonable demands by business leaders - but we forget that they are accountable for bottom-line results. We need to look at our rigid rules that we sometimes hold sacred, and find a way to meet our business clients' needs while keeping in mind that IT is not their specialty. Patience is key. When we hit an impasse, it's good to ask, "Are we being patient and understanding?"

2. Admit you need to change.

Facing facts that we manage on an IT environment that is full of stringent standards and rules is hard to do - after all, aren't we the keepers of the corporate kingdom? We need to admit to ourselves when we are too inflexible, or when we aren't really listening to the urgency of the business issue. Can we find new ways to do our jobs that can show our business colleagues that we are agile and that we are partners in their objectives? I think we can, once we realize it's not all about us and our rules.

3. Acknowledge the challenge you face.

It's tricky. Keep things secure, operational, performing optimally - but introduce change and do it quickly with no room for error. This is where priorities come into place. We need to understand the value that we provide for the enterprise, and know where we can bend and where we have to stand firm. The challenge to get into new technologies quickly - to reap benefits and stay ahead of the competitive wave - is a difficult one, since we have to ensure stability and service-level compliance in all that we build. It's a balancing act that has no single right answer. There are no prescriptive solutions for keeping all the plates spinning while moving faster!

4. Seek executive support.

Having executive champions who understand how technology can drive strategy success is key, but they also need to understand the cost-to-value equation. They have to appreciate the must-haves for security, stability and performance that sometimes make timelines longer than anyone wants them to be.

5. Articulate the business benefits.

No one wants to hear how much code was written or tested, or what new technology hoops your team dove through to make something happen. They don't want to hear about the cool new hardware or software that you get to play with - they want to hear the facts about what's in it for them. That is, what is the bottom line (in cold hard cash!) that compels a leadership team to take a chance on the new technology? Soft benefits are nice for storytelling about other successes at other places, but the real numbers with real life examples are what prove the case.

6. Establish business ownership.

Never go it alone. Be sure that there is business buy-in and ownership for any major enterprise initiative. This is not only so there is "skin in the game," but also helps you get access to the resources you need - human, technical or financial - to address issues as they arise (which they will). Be sure that there is a business partner who is depending on the results just as much as you are to ensure that when the business has deliverables due, that deadlines will be met. Never, ever initiate a project for technology's sake without a business owner who sees things the way you do.

7. Work across teams.

Absolutely be a team player when embarking on an initiative like one for enterprise analytics. The people that will have input, be affected, benefit from the outcomes, and ultimately either make or break your success will be in different pockets of the business - which may surprise you. You will uncover data owners that you never knew existed, and business processes that keep the business afloat but that are under your radar. Be sure you socialize and engage broadly to deliver successfully. Make new friends and let them share the success!

8. Eliminate silos.

Silos in any large corporation ultimately serve as its demise. Not only are there misalignments between strategies and processes, but data and information that is siloed soon becomes obsolete - OR it becomes its own new empire. To ensure that you have the whole truth and are working at the right level, socialize across areas of business responsibility to be sure you have the best of breed to work with - and integrate across.

9. Focus on data quality.

If I had a dime for every time I heard about a project failing due to poor data quality - or a dollar for every time I witnessed one - I would probably not be spending my time writing this today. (Or maybe I would - I do love to spread the news on how enterprise initiatives involving data, analytics and better decision making can come to life!)

You will hear over and over again that data quality is king, and I would agree wholeheartedly. There is no good that can come out of a solution that has poor data as its foundation - even the best-case scenario is bad decision making. The worst case is things falling apart before the decision makers even get hold of the information they need. No one wants to say "Sorry, that is bad data so we have to start again," or "We didn't have the right information so the decision we made was completely wrong." Be sure you preach to everyone who will listen that data quality and the business buy-in on governing and managing the data environment is the single most important first step in any enterprise IT solution - and the single most reported failure for initiatives gone bad.

10. Deliver a single version of the truth.

As cliché as this sounds, it is the holy grail for enabling good business decisions and getting the right ROI on your enterprise information and analytics initiatives. What is the point of spending resources on reconciling various truths when you could instead base sound and strategic decisions on the right one and move forward quickly? Many a corporate battle has derailed initiatives that had great potential due to disagreement over who had the "true" information. Get the right definition, vet it appropriately, get signoff from all the right owners - and deliver.

11. Set up a data steward organization.

This may be the most understated item of the 12. Governing data is probably the biggest deal maker or breaker. Having the right owners to manage the data definitions, metadata, modifications to data, business rules, and monitoring of the data inventory is key for sustaining a good analytics environment. This is foundation work - work that takes time but is worth the effort.

Be sure that the data steward organization is owned by the business, and the right champion of the analytics environment and solutions validates the choice of organizational structure and accountabilities. As an IT leader, you never want to put yourself in the position of "telling" the business how to manage its data, or what it means; instead you want to help coach it on best practices, provide the tools for managing the data, help design the right processes with the right skill sets, and give the business decision rights at each critical point. Only then will you be sure that what you build will last and will mature as the analytics environment learns from itself. You will have created a great legacy.

12. Savor the rewards!

So often in IT we forget to capture and celebrate the true benefits of what is delivered - and we often don't take the time to recognize the unexpected benefits of an implementation. Be sure to start with outlining critical success factors, so you can be sure to celebrate them when you are done. Remember to break things down into chunks of work that can be both marked complete and provide business value, making a big deal and lots of noise when they are delivered. Include the business and the IT teams collectively in being rewarded on joint accomplishments and business results - so that collaboration is a continued partnership.