CIO Driven Collaboration

John Miller, VP-IT, American Textile Company
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John Miller, VP-IT, American Textile Company

John Miller, VP-IT, American Textile Company

We IT professionals are in a unique situation. Sometimes, we fill the role of “Lightening Rod of Hate”. After all, we are the ones that say “No, you cannot have a new iPhone 6.” However, we have access to all of the data and all of the processes that run our companies. We must know and understand the operations of our respective businesses. We must understand how Finance works and what hits the GL to affect the bottom line. We must understand how our products are developed, marketed and sold. We must understand how our business interact with other businesses through purchasing, inventory control, order processing, picking, shipping, and invoicing for every single widget we sell. Many of our business peers also have this knowledge, but we also have the added responsibility of providing the world-class technology to facilitate the business of business.

We IT professionals need to understand Cyber Security to keep unwanted eyes out and intellectual capital in. We need to understand the infrastructure needed to connect all of our locations so we can talk and text and email and collaborate. It requires a special person to understand the business of IT and the business of business. This is especially true in the Textile industry. Lead times are short, product development cycles are complex, and profit margin are wafer thin. Our only hope is to use automation and collaboration.

You already own automation. You need to own collaboration. Collaboration is working together towards a common goal. Processes need to be well documented. Participants need to understand their roles and the roles of their upstream and downstream partners. Sounds a lot like a flowchart, doesn’t it? Purchasing and planning needs to function as one to make sure there are sufficient products for the frozen production window.

The CIO, I believe, has the obligation to play the extremely important role as facilitator to break down the silos and re-engineer business processes. We architect the application to provide the automation for effective business processes. IT provides data security to protect data but also provides access to foster collaboration. The CIO sits at the table of the Sr. Leadership Team. Mostly, though, the CIO understands the business and has the skillset to organize it into well ordered, logical, collaborative processes.

So CIOs, here is your Action Plan:

1. Formalize Business Process Re-Engineering – The CIO needs to take the initiative to start a ‘business process re-engineering function’ in the organization. If you are sufficiently large, justify and staff a small business process re-engineering team. This team should report to the CIO.

Draft a business process re-engineering charter. Keep it simple. I suggest, “The charter of this team is design processes, deploy solutions and modify attitudes to eliminate silos and foster an environment where people want to work together.”

2. Draft a list of the business critical processes - If you have an ERP and a warehouse management system (WMS), you already have your list. Just walk through the main menu. Quickly eliminate items that add little or no value to the overall efficiency of the organization. You do not need an optimized process for Payroll. There is no ROI for Payroll. If you do not do it, no one will work for you and your company will fold. You do want a process for Product Development, Item Setup, Order Processing, Billing, Manufacturing and Quality Control.

3. Perform a SWOT Analysis – Identify the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats associated with all of your current processes. If you are still reading this, first of all thank you. But more importantly, please eliminate Political Correctness from this discussion. If Dave in Accounts Payable is a boat anchor, say it. It is a weakness in the process.

4. Re-Engineer the processes – Assemble a small team of business subject matter experts (SMEs). Your SME should be knowledgeable, experienced and should not be above the director level. Get the folks that will work hard and have the time to dedicate to the project. The output from this session is a documented process flow with swim lanes for each department. This chart will identify process ownership, handoffs and interfaces. It will look something like this:

5. Assign a Process Owner– Each process needs an owner. The process owner is the person that wants the process to be successful more than anyone else. The Controller wants the month end closing process to be short, painless and more accurate than any other user. They should own the process. When you own a process, own it: the People, the Process and the Technology.

6. Perform Annual Reviews – The CIO will review the processes every year with the Process Owners and the Sr. Leadership Team of the business. Business conditions change. The environment changes. Mergers and Acquisitions happen. Key resources leave. Strategic Plans change. The CIO is responsible for keeping the Business Process fresh and current.

So what does any of this Process Re-Engineering have to do with collaboration? Everything. You have to collaborate to draft a list of processes. You have to collaborate to perform a SWOT analysis. You have to collaborate to draft a new process. Most importantly, when a group of people come together and draft a new process to make the business run better, faster, and less expensively, their pride of ownership forces them to collaborate and communicate to be successful. It all happened because the CIO took the initiative. Sometimes, without speaking a word, the CIO can foster an environment for people to talk together and work together. Sometimes, the CIO can become more valuable to the organization and be more than just the Executive that is known for saying “No” to system requests. Sometimes, the CIO can be recognized as a technology leader and a business leader. Sometimes.

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