Yes, you can: How to initiate change your company can believe in

As an IT professional, you don't often have the luxury of going with the flow. With businesses everywhere seeking both efficiencies and revenue growth, IT's mission is increasingly geared toward implementing and even spearheading many types of change.

That's never been more true than in today's economic climate. "Where do we think productivity is going to come from? From technology," says Charles Beard, CIO at San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp.

In a 2008 Gartner Inc. survey of 1,500 CIOs worldwide, improving business processes was identified as the No. 1 priority for CIOs. And in a late-2008 survey of 100 IT leaders by CIO Connect, an independent networking forum for top CIOs in the U.K., 62% of the respondents said that their board-level colleagues were increasingly turning to them for insight and leadership in the area of business change.

But as experienced IT leaders can tell you, it's not easy being an instigator of change. Even though as CIO you're in a good position to recognize processes that should be improved, people might not want to listen to you, especially when you're challenging long-held beliefs.

That's why Bogdan Butoi, director of sales operations at Animas Corp., a West Chester, Pa.-based maker of insulin pumps, wears his politician's hat when he questions processes that his business counterparts take for granted. It helps, Butoi says, that he's naturally rebellious. "It's always a challenge to me when people say, 'This is how you have to do it,'" he says.

At the same time, he knows there's nothing like the suggestion of change to raise one's blood pressure, so he has learned how to approach people in a politically correct way.

We spoke with Butoi, Beard and others to get tips on how to recognize and propose business change in a way that gets results. Here's what they said:

Pinpoint processes worth changing.

There's no sense in even getting started if the business process you're targeting for change won't yield adequate payback, either in return on investment or reduced costs. To find opportunities, either look for processes that run more slowly than others across the entire organization or those that slow down within a particular department, says Ron Bonig, vice president and CIO at George Washington University.

For instance, if one department regularly requires much more time than others to complete the hiring process, that might signal a problem. Similarly, if there are two processes that cross two departments -- say, hiring and benefits management -- but one runs much slower than the other, that's worth exploring.

Then consider the payback for fixing it. "A 5% problem to one department is not a big deal, but if it's a 5% problem to everyone in the organization, that could be a lot of money," Bonig says.

Use the whiteboard.

It's important for you and your staff to thoroughly understand the problem you detect in the process before proposing any changes. This doesn't come naturally to many IT people, who tend to go with their gut instinct when it comes to offering solutions, says Bonig.

"People out of grad school in computer science and engineering -- even though they should have learned the scientific method -- shoot from the hip instead of fleshing out the who, what, where, when and why," he says.

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