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Making IT the Dynamo of Business Innovation – A Summary

By Andre Badenhorst | Digital Transformation

May 13
"My company does not regard IT as a business partner."

This is a statement usually coming from IT Leaders and it clearly illustrates the dilemma in which the IT function finds itself in.

There is, however, a bunch of IT Leaders who have managed to address this fault line. Not only do they manage to turn their IT department around, but also their business. And boy, do they reach success!

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These people are quite hard to find, but they do exist. I have sourced them from of our distinct community of change agents in mid-sized businesses which particularly includes IT LeadersI call them witnesses as they provide first-hand accounts of success in their venture to take the business with them on their journey to innovate

Below I have included a selection of only four storiesfollowed by some of the change agents' elaboration on the success factors.

There are, however, many other accounts, articles and excellent discussions for you to discover on the eXuviate network as well as the in the eXpander series.

Jason Sichkaryk leads his company to new ways just by following these very basic principles: 

  1. Seek to understand before asking to be understood
  2. Good enough is actually good enough. 
    (The notion of a Minimum Viable Product - MVP)
  3. Rather beg for forgiveness than ask for permission

It all started about 5 years ago with a big dream, lots of challenges and frustrations, but he is now, as an IT Director, being asked by executives to help to turn around other departments - and he accepts the challenge. Much to learn from his journey.

Three books that helped him make the difference:
Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
The Phoenix Project
Rethinking Agile

Have a peek at where Jason was a year ago: eXpander episode 36: DX from the Bottom up – How to Start a Digital Transformation Without Support of the Executive.

Or explore all of Jason's conversations.

Like with Jason, a breakthrough came after years of positioning and lots of frustration. Ray Leslie's thinking is all the more business-aligned and the quick wins, also in MVP-style, are possible due to a strategic decision he made a couple of years ago: establishing a solid technology platform built around Office 365. 

Also, watch Ray's conversation with us a year ago: eXpander Episode 42: Taking IT from a Mere Support Function to a Critical Business Capability.

With 18 years of high-level IT experience and impressively armored with mainstream knowledge and qualifications, Johan Pretorius can barely be called a mainstream thinker. 

Now, driven by Lean Agile principles and also a good dose of gut feel, he tackles the unknowns that the future may hold in unconventional ways. Not to mention that he is taking the business along. His secret? Ample critical agile and soft skill equipment as well as translating technology into business speak, or is it rather the other way around?

Johan also featured in several eXpander Episodes.

For Nicocontinuous engagement with his team members plays a huge part in his day-to-day responsibility.

It's almost like a salesperson who continuously goes back and tells them to foster and grow the capability within the business to drive innovation. If you don’t do that, you will get demotivated and at the end of the day, you will become irrelevant.

The book that made all the difference to Nico: I Was Your Customer, by Peter Cheales.

Watch this follow-up conversation where Nico touches on the topic of the importance of excellence in your team. eXpander Episode 68: Measurements & Masterminds 

I have never stopped investing in my staff to skill them up. And that is critical. For an IT department really to be relevant, they need to be service-oriented.

Change Agents Elaborate on the Key Take-Aways

The following eXpander episodes from change agents highlights the critical success factors.

Mark Geschke asks: What are the most common beliefs that hold you back? This IT Leader coaching session indeed exposes the key limiting beliefs that hold us back. Knowing about these is the first step to get them out of the way. The next step is to identify one limiting belief that is very true for you, then work on it!

John Fisher says: 

For you to be an IT Leader, you need to make that shift to be a business person first, who happens to understand technology. 

Listen to John’s 35 years of experience on this topic. 

Bettina Horvath reasons that Leadership skills are paramount in driving change in your business. How does one change form a tech-junkie to a business savvy growth partner? Her top tip? 

Excellence is the next five minutes - Tom Peters

More of Bettina's insights: 

According to Tom Henricksen, you need to start collaborating up with whoever your new leader is, and then to people in other areas of the company. You want people to understand you are there to collaborate with them to jointly serve the business. When you get promoted to a leadership role, you need to understand what the business is doing and how you can serve the business.

Communicating is important, but, of course, listening is so important too. That is kind of a keystone habit that you can take whether you are in technology or any other aspect to really be effective.

According to Mike Sisco, you have got to start running technology projects like business projects and you have got to start communicating with the client. 

Businesses want to spend money where they can see it will generate more revenue. And the categories for business value? 

  1. Increase revenue, 
  2. Decrease costs, 
  3. Improve productivity, 
  4. Differentiate the company to sell more widgets or services,
  5. Improve client service or client satisfaction to retain them.

This is the language an IT Leader should learn to speak, not technology.

Having a technical/programming background, Philipp Kellner now optimises business processes. “Fast” is the keyword here. 

Making business fast is his passion, using his expertise and thinking that was formed in the technology space. 

Subscribing to Conway’s law (another business concept that has originated from IT), he regards the forming of teams and empowering them as an absolutely critical aspect of speeding up business.

Expert Stephan Meyer poses that reason alone is not enough to cultivate an innovative mindset. He proposes five mindsets to explore to start a new movement.

Mike Burrows points us to a process of experimentation whilst inclusively and collaboratively exploring options.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast every day.

As IT Leaders we need to leverage disruptive technologies, but we also need to keep our eye on the impact that it may be having or the obstacles that we might need to overcome to be a successful implementer of change. 

Tim Dixon got a lot of value from an organisation culture survey that also takes business performance as a metric.

NASA discovered that the speed at which an organisation can move is limited by one simple metric: The speed at which we can make a decision.

Here Craig Armour elaborates on Jason Sichkaryk's principle of “Seek to understand before asking to be understood”, expanding it to not only listening to people but also to data.

There’s perhaps a precondition to listening, and that is to ask the right questionsJudy Rees directs us to the three core collaborative competencies:

a) Advocating for a point of view,
b) paying attention, and
c) directing attention. 

The quality of your attention determines the quality of another person’s thinking. - Nancy Kline

Wait, There's More!

As this selection of contributions is highly subjective, you can on your own further explore eXuviate contributions as well as eXpander episodes by topic area.

Career & Personal Development


eXpander Episodes

IT Management


eXpander Episodes

Frameworks & Tools


eXpander Episodes

Digital Leadership


eXpander Episodes

Digital Transformation


eXpander Episodes

Future of Business


eXpander Episodes

What's in a Name?

Have you made the shift? Do you think "Business" rather than "Technology"? What does your job title tell you?

Let’s see how many of our community have the word “Business” in their job titles:

I did a quick search in the eXuviate network: About 10 percent of our current members’ company role titles explicitly indicates a relation to business, e.g. containing a word like Business Technologist, Director, Executive, Business Systems Analyst. Typically, job titles have references to Technology, e.g. IT Manager, Head of IT, Head of Infrastructure and Development, Chief Information Officer.

Is this an indication of a lack of business focus of IT Leaders becoming true leaders, or is it just a lack of understanding from the business side of the important role IT Leaders have to play to become a real business partner?

Just asking…

Job titles will play an increasingly smaller role than in the past, but “I don’t think it’s going to go away because people need shorthands” - Bill Schiemann, CEO of Metrus Group Inc. (https://www.chieflearningofficer.com/2017/09/20/important-job-titles/)

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About the Author

André was a member of the Xuviate team until June 2019. He has more than 20 years of experience in Information Technology with a primary focus on designing and developing software solutions on all application tiers. Also, he has a solid theoretical background in curriculum studies and a thinker on the topic of new education.

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