After reviewing the results of a recent survey on enabling innovation, my takeaway was that if you’re a CIO or other IT leader, you probably think you’re doing a much better job of giving the company’s employees what they need than they think you’re doing.
The survey was conducted by Softchoice, an IT managed services provider in Toronto. Among the findings, for example, was that while 93 percent of IT decision-makers believe their IT infrastructure serves their organization’s innovation needs, only 24 percent of the employees are satisfied that the company is investing enough in technology that supports innovation.
I had the opportunity to discuss the results with Francis Li, Softchoice’s vice president of IT, and I asked him if my conclusion that there’s a disconnect between employees and IT leaders, and that IT leaders seem to think they’re doing a much better job than the employees think they’re doing is a fair one. Li said it’s a very fair conclusion, and one that didn’t surprise him at all.
I’ve been in my position here at Softchoice as IT leader for the past five years or so, and one of the things that I’ve tried to work toward — and perhaps my experience coming from the business helps — is driving a cultural change, not only with the management team, but also right down to frontline employees within the IT organization. The awakening for me, or the “aha” moment, was sitting in our IT scorecard reviews, looking at a balanced scorecard approach to managing our infrastructure. We saw mostly greens with high-uptime and high service levels, yet that didn’t really correlate with some of the feedback that I’d received from some of our business constituents. It was an awakening of sorts, knowing that we’ve got to stop fooling ourselves. If we think we’re doing a great job by traditional IT metrics, we are only fooling ourselves. Ultimately what’s important for us to be measured by is the opinion of our internal constituents and end-user customers. If they don’t feel that we’re doing a good job, then our scorecard metrics are very misguided.
Since Li is Softchoice’s vice president of IT, I couldn’t help but point out that, statistically speaking, chances are Softchoice’s employees would likely want more than what he’s delivering in terms of technology that supports innovation. Li readily acknowledged that he put himself in the same boat as most IT leaders in most organizations that took part in the survey:
I am sure that if we were to take a cut of the data and take a look at Softchoice employees, it would not differ very much at all from the overall results, in spite of my and my team’s efforts to close the gaps. I think that a lot of it comes down to training and communication. I think that that is easily an area that is under-resourced at most organizations, and I would say that that’s probably an area that’s under-resourced here at Softchoice, as well. So it’s training on existing technologies — how to leverage existing technology and toolsets, and proactively communicating with our employees at all levels to ensure that they know what they have at their disposal. It’s fostering good relationships, from the frontline individuals right up to the C-suite, so that people feel encouraged to really speak their minds about whether or not the technology that they’re using is adding value and is useful to them. And it’s asking what other things IT could be doing or investing in, in order to help them do their job and service the customer better.
Finally, I asked Li what he plans to do differently — what he’s going to do now that he wasn’t doing before as a result of what he learned from the survey. His response:
I think that one thing that we have done, which we need to do more of, is really carve out time in people’s calendars and schedules, so they can be more creative and work on things that they would consider more innovative and fun. So right now we carve out one day per quarter for kind of a variation of a hackathon. We call it “IT Disruptive” days. And that’s when we allow our employees to spend some time either collaborating amongst themselves in technical teams, or collaborating with some of our end users in the business on low-hanging-fruit types of projects. It probably wouldn’t be something that would have been prioritized by a center of excellence or steering committee within the organization; it’s likely not something that would have received an investment through our regular budgeting process. But it’s something that frontline employees think would be valuable and innovative, and would help them do their jobs better, or service the customer better. So I think I will endeavor to try and do more of that, because right now, we only do it once a quarter, and it certainly doesn’t seem to be enough.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.