IT in Practice: Building a Foundation of Collaboration

Having served in many roles over the past 20 years in the IT industry I have noticed “collaboration” is a term increasingly gaining momentum. Where other efforts fail, collaboration can help CIOs build real alignment and achieve success with the business.

This alignment requires a concentrated focus on the part of the CIO. It is imperative for CIOs to work with key members of the executive team and members of the board of directors to understand the inherent challenges that face the business. Understanding these challenges and collaborating with thought leaders and highly respected executives will help CIOs deliver solutions that circumvent resistance while addressing and enabling the core strategy and needs of the business.

Collaboration, in a very real form, is when individuals join efforts to work together to achieve a common purpose. In the case of business executives, it can be a vehicle used to help drive key initiatives throughout the organization. This is especially the case when standing alone will draw fire from those opposed to these key initiatives and programs.

Those who stand together are stronger and more influential than those who stand alone. This is why collaboration is integral to the survival of a CIO in an organization. Similarly, alignment between key executives around strategic elements of the business is essential for the long-term viability of an organization. Collectively, collaboration and alignment have the ability to pave the road for successful execution and the delivery of value for the business.

Poor Step Child

However, collaboration is often neglected by members of the IT community throughout the business sector. This is more often the case when the business and IT speak a different language and embrace different priorities. At times, IT speaks a language that is foreign to the business and consequently creates indifference by the business to technology-based initiatives. The IT department’s focus on operational-based programs frequently appears disconnected from the overall business strategy.

This is a theme I have noticed over the course of my career in CIO roles at a major public school district, as well as a global technology, media and financial services company. To remedy this, it is important that CIOs remain connected to the business strategy and champion only those programs that specifically deliver value for the business.

In June 2008, I became the new CIO of Mannatech, a global provider of proprietary dietary supplements, weight management products and skin care solutions. After joining Mannatech, I discovered the company had purchased an enterprise system that could address existing supply chain gaps. Unfortunately, the business did not fully install or configure all modules of the enterprise system.

There were modules such as distribution resource planning (DRP) that had the capability to address deficiencies in our demand planning and forecasting cycles. Yet, this module was never implemented, even as our business continued to face difficulty with appropriately forecasting product demand. Additionally, there were other modules and configurations such as item master and inventory movement which had the capability to help the business better manage its inventory flow and product stocking levels. But because this module was never installed, much of the work of moving inventory from one plant to the next had to be done manually.

Lastly, there were bill of materials (BOM) tools that could contribute to a much more efficient kitting process for the business. However, this module was never implemented either because the business was hesitant about spending additional funds.

Due to challenges with the initial deployment of the supply chain management system prior to my arrival, I found it difficult to get the organization to support additional investments in the full implementation and optimization of its supply chain. This lack of investment in a system that was designed to optimize and build solid controls into the organization enabled process gaps to remain in our supply chain. This allowed for the sub-optimization and inefficiency of the supply chain cycle.

The previously negative experiences the business encountered during the initial deployment of the system made it difficult for me, in the position of CIO, to rally the organization around the need to make additional investments despite the benefits I laid out.

Getting Help

After meeting with members of the board of directors to discuss the shortcomings of the supply chain process, I realized that I would not make any progress without enlisting the support of other key executives. While I may have been able to speak to the issues and gaps facing the supply chain, a supply chain leader was much better positioned to address issues of accountability and responsibility.