IT Gets Strategic Again

The CIO of a global Medical Device manufacturing company recently said to me, "I don't want to have to install another piece of software at this company unless I absolutely have to."

"You want to hear something that will really blow your mind?" he followed.

I was already pretty excited about how forward thinking the conversation was. What comes after putting the entire legacy software industry on notice?

"I could have my entire supply chain being run by Amazon by the end of the year."

These guys don't sell widgets to consumers. They sell respiratory care equipment and supplies for operating rooms to health care providers.

IT Needs to Focus on The Business

What's interesting about this IT organization is not that they are technologically ambitious, but that they are 100 percent focused on driving their business forward. Not the business of providing technology services to their internal customers, but the business of producing world-class products efficiently and serving their external clients with the same service levels they are used to receiving from the best customer service organizations in the world.

This is the way IT becomes strategic to companies again. They must be focused on what Peter Drucker has called the purpose of business, "to create and keep a customer."

This CIO wants Amazon to do their supply chain management because, in his words, "we aren't good at it and Amazon is the best." It will immediately provide a better experience for the customer who wants to order smaller batches of supplies and have them delivered on a more frequent basis.

The logic was clear: Doing supply chain management is draining time and resources from doing what they do best, inventing new devices and manufacturing them efficiently. And it isn't giving their clients the flexibility that they need.

They want to move their content to the cloud for the same reason. They need a technology that allows them to interface seamlessly with Salesforce (their go-forward ERP) and provides collaborative capabilities to their engineers, mobility to their sales force and DRM so they can protect their IP.

Open Questions

If this organization was so forward thinking why where they talking to a consultant like me? They were looking for answers on how to take content management to the cloud. Like a lot of large companies these folks have gone through acquisitions and divestures. As a result they have the typical vendor landscape: a little bit of everything. Each part of the organization thinks that their system should be the standard. SharePoint is everywhere. But they want to get off of SharePoint too.

"So what do we do?" the CIO asked after updating me on their landscape. I had three suggestions:

Establish a Current State User Profile

They had already begun establishing the most pressing content management needs in the organization and they knew that they want to move to a cloud enabled / mobile environment. What was missing was an understanding of how their employees were working today.

A survey is a common way to quickly gather this kind of information. This is a sample of some of the basic responses from similar sized organizations:


But you don't just want to know how work is being done today -- that creates the baseline. You also want to build a profile of the technology proficiency of the users in the organization. What are the demographics of the different business units? What kind of mobile / cloud technologies are they using in their own lives?

If you have an older sales force that doesn't bank online you might want to focus on providing collaboration capabilities to your engineering group where a majority of employees have applied for a loan online or run their own blogs. Build out a more complicated persona to really provide useful intelligence on the enterprise. These questions, though indirectly related to the way work gets done, can tell a lot about how your users will react to the forward thinking vision of IT leadership.

Become a Marketing Organization

Visionary leaders can see the future so clearly that they often forget to spend the time marketing their ideas to the rest of the organization. You can have the best ideas for the most cutting edge applications, but if the users don't adopt them the project will fail. How do you get the enterprise to support a transformative initiative? Marketing.

The best organizations build an in depth communication strategy that captures the attention of users and convinces them that they are the ones who want the change. Adoption will be much easier if you can create this feeling than if your executive sponsor tells users that they have to change the way they work for an "upgrade" that they didn't ask for with a "value" for the organization that they don't understand.

Technologists aren't usually the best marketers. But we need to take a page out of the Leo Burnett page book if we want to have a transformative impact on the enterprise. That means developing a communication plan that begins long before the technology is announced and continues through launch. This is an example of the type of activities you should consider.


Some of the most successful organizations we've worked with have hired outside marketing agencies to help them make profession communication tools: posters, emails, webpages, etc. It might sound like overkill, but if it increases adoption ....

Your Biggest Content Challenge is What Isn't There

We hear a lot about the growth of content. But we don't hear as much about the content that should be in our organizations but isn't: policies, procedures, guidelines that are needed for each functional area within the enterprise. Most organizations don't have a complete inventory of these documents. When these documents exist and users can find them, they're often difficult to understand. Perform this kind of inventory prior to moving to a new CMS. As you complete the inventory you should also be organizing the documentation by functional area and building an information architecture that can be applied to the new system.

Part of the appeal of moving to the cloud is the ability to outsource functional areas that are not core to their business. But if the documentation around these areas is unclear or non-existent, it makes it more cumbersome to move those capabilities out of house. Even if you aren't planning to outsource, this is a practical way to retain institutional knowledge as employees retire or take new job opportunities.

Opportunities Ahead

From new cloud content technologies to outsourcing supply chain to Amazon, exciting opportunities for forward thinking CIOs are out there. We have the potential to transform the way business gets done. We can produce better products AND serve our clients better. But we still need to lead our organizations through the change. Those challenges are very personal, emotional and challenging. Good luck.

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