Some companies are better than others at realising that all business change has an IT dimension. By the same token, IT is all about change. It’s not uncommon for IT projects that deliver change to be deemed to fail, just because the business doesn’t embrace change at the outset. Users may adopt new functionality, but are slow to appreciate how system change will affect familiar processes. To avoid this disconnect, it’s critical to align business goals with IT deliverables from the outset.
At the heart of this sits the issue of change. Retailers need to ask themselves who owns change in their business. Is the IT director involved in the change process early enough or at all? Or does the internal culture see business strategy and IT delivery as separate elements, each operating within its own silo?
The IT function needs to be involved early on in the process of change so it can contribute to the optimum degree. In an ideal world, IT directors would sit at the heart of the business as the agent of change and would play a key role in strategic planning. They would focus their resource on meeting business goals, rather than delivering ‘projects’ which are often, wrongly, seen as the whole deliverable. Most importantly, they would ensure that no change - business or IT - takes place without being dove-tailed into the organisation’s ‘enterprise architecture’.
So is architecture the key to aligning business goals with IT deliverables? In simple terms: yes. While few would deny the folly of erecting a new building without the services of an architect and a design blueprint, surprisingly few retailers employ the same disciplines in their business.
This can be a positive attribute. After all, change is the lifeblood of retail and success often comes from recognising a commercial opportunity and being quick to grasp it. Nevertheless, having no more than a loose-knit set of tactics rather than a strategic plan to guide operations can result in worrying gaps between processes and systems.
By failing to adequately architect change and assess its impact on their business, retailers risk being taken by surprise by its costs and effects. This wouldn’t happen if IT deliverables and business goals were aligned and set in the context of an evolving change management programme.
Before they assert that IT is not meeting the needs of the business as it develops (a not uncommon lament), retailers need to have the courage to look at their strategic goals and processes. If that strategic view doesn’t exist, it’s time to call on the services of a business architect.
Just as an architect would ensure that all the elements of a new property happily coexist, and all costs and impacts are clearly understood, so the services of an enterprise or change management architect can ensure that IT systems support, rather than work against, business processes and take the retailer in its strategic direction.
Few retailers enjoy the luxury of an inhouse change management architect, so opt to use external skills. Change management consultants can look holistically at the business, document its strategy and goals, recommend process changes and finally guide the creation of new IT systems to support them.
If external architects are used, they need to have an excellent understanding of the market and the retailer’s business processes and to contribute both retail and IT skills. These attributes equip them to recommend ideal business procedures then map them to the right IT solutions and services; hopefully achieving a good marriage of retail processes and technology.
To get the best out of their business and their technology, retailers need to invest more in getting their architecture right. Only when IT deliverables have been completely aligned with business goals and mapped against an overall blueprint for success can retailers expect to achieve a ‘grand design’.
Alan Morris is managing director of retail IT outsourcing specialists, Retail Assist.
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