Innovation, IT and the Enterprise Trusted Advisor

By Johna Till Johnson
On Jan 22, 2014
Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ask any IT professional if he or she is considered a “trusted advisor”, and you’ll get an interesting reaction. Almost never is it a straightforward yes or no—more typically it’s a long pause, and then “weeeeeelllll……..”

Part of the challenge lies in defining what, exactly, comprises a trusted advisor. Nemertes classifies providers—including IT departments, whose “customers” are typically the lines of business—into three main groups:

Commodity supplier. The product or service you supply is based solely on “bang for the buck”, and your customer will transfer to another supplier that offers greater value and/or lower price. If your IT department is considered a commodity, watch out for getting outsourced.

• Strategic partner. Your customer sets the strategy, and looks to you to execute it. Your risk of being outsourced is low because you’re considered “strategic”, but you aren’t asked to advise on setting the strategy—just executing it.

• Trusted advisor. Your customer turns to you for assistance in setting the strategy.

Reasonably enough, given the criticality of technology these days, most IT professionals aspire to being considered trusted advisors. And that’s the other part of the problem: Too often, IT professionals are victims of their own success. For the past decade or more, IT departments have focused on operational excellence—and put in place the frameworks, structure, and processes to enable that.

But those efforts now stand in the way of the ability to be fast, agile, and innovative. They’re often perceived as rigid and unresponsive, and therefore unhelpful to the business. As one of my clients put it, “It’s easier to live with the problem than deal with IT.”

IT professionals understand this—which is a big part of the reason they hesitate before answering. They know they’re increasingly asked to step up to become more strategic—yet it seems impossible to reconcile being fast, agile and responsive with operating a highly reliable, scalable set of systems. And to the extent that they’re considered process-bound, IT teams can’t also step up to being strategic.

What to do? In upcoming posts we’ll share some of the strategies our clients have deployed to move “up the spectrum” towards becoming an enterprise trusted advisor. But I’ll leave you with one item to consider: Innovation. In many respects, IT can be the ideal incubator for technology innovation. And by building an innovation engine, IT can not only transform its role within the company, but provide the company with a strategic competitive advantage.