An Integration Resolution for the New Year

Loraine Lawson

It’s a New Year, and for many of us, that means setting a New Year’s resolution or two.

Personally, I prefer to set goals for the year, rather than taking the all-or-nothing resolution approach that causes so much frustration in mid-January. So, in that vein, I’d like to suggest an integration and data management goal for CIOs and other IT leaders to adopt in in 2013.

The goal: Learn how to foster an environment of sharing.

I admit it’s not a very technology-focused goal, but it’s a skill that could pay real dividends, whether you’re tackling a simple integration project or trying to establish an enterprise-wide information management strategy.

Time and time again, I hear that the biggest barrier to integration and enterprise-wide data management isn’t technical, but political. Repeatedly, IT’s efforts are thwarted by departmental silos and a general unwillingness to share across divisions.

This is not a small thing, and it can easily interfere with IT’s ROI goals for everything from MDM to rolling out Sharepoint.

It may not be your job to fix this problem, but it could certainly make your job and life easier if you knew how to overcome it.

Sure, you could get an executive order, and people might curmudgeonly agree to comply while undermining your efforts. But what you really want is to win them over, to sell them on the concept of sharing data.

What if I told you that you might be able to achieve this with a little competition?

It sounds strange, encouraging sharing via competition, but this tactic worked for one “large, very compartmentalized and extremely silo-ed global organization,” according to Michael Schrage.

Schrage is a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, and in a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, he shared the simple strategy he helped develop for encouraging employees to share across teams, departments and divisions.

The corporation’s executives created two competitive awards. The first was the “Thief of the Month,” which honored the team or small group who “stole” an idea or innovation (or, for our purposes, data?) from another unit and best incorporated it into their own line of business. The second, complimentary contest was the “We Wuz Robbed” award, which went to team or department whose best practice or process (or, for our purposes, data) was adopted by another group.

Two things. First, you’ll note that these awards address both sides of the sharing equation, or what Schrage calls the “supply” and “demand” of sharing.

Second, don’t be like the readers of his post, who got hung up on the titles of the prizes. As he points out, they reflect this corporation’s culture, which valued an edgy sense of humor.

The executives played up each month’s winner, giving a modest prize, but company-wide recognition and praise for each award.

And a funny thing happened: It worked.

“I’ve been reliably informed that the awards were bundled into an annual enterprise-wide event the third year and that the firm had a network of maybe 300 or 400 managers/leaders for whom informal sharing and benchmarking had become a norm,” writes Schrage. “The competitions had sparked new kinds of value exchange inside the firewall.”

Schrage adds that while today’s tools are better at fostering collaboration and sharing — think Sharepoint — in the end, the technology matters much less than the people.

From everything the experts tell me, this is true for integration projects as well. IT can break down the silos, but the business needs to cooperate. It’s not enough for the business users to be just okay share; they need to own the project and engage in the sharing.

“What made our little competition work was a call for and a commitment to treating one’s colleagues as value-added resources and customers for innovation and ideas,” Schrage writes. “Today’s tools are so much better. But I fear that top management’s commitment is not.”

I read through the comments on his post, and found two noteworthy additions to his piece:

  1. You really need executive support for this to work, and executives need to model sharing. For those in IT, this may mean calling up your favorite executive sponsor or, if you’re the CIO, sitting down with the CEO and CFO to sell them on the idea.
  2. One of the reasons this strategy probably worked is that it reward teams, rather than individuals, notes reader Julia Kirby.

“Little celebrations like this work not because they represent much material incentive but because they provide that depressingly rare thing: an actual clear signal of what kind of behavior management wants to see more of,” wrote reader Julia Kirby. “The problem is that individuals get such mixed signals on behavior that benefits other units. Top management loves it, but usually their own direct manager is far less encouraging. Your project's decision to reward the TEAM and not the individual that shared/sought out a practice seems very wise, because it likely brought more of those supervisors on board.”

And that’s no small thing when you’re navigating the politics of an integration project.

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