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Whose Business is Process Improvement Anyway?

Whose Business is Process Improvement Anyway?

Business and IT are locked in a struggle over who controls the management of business process improvements. CIOs who seek to lead the charge have their work cut out for them

Kaiser knew he had to combat the IT department's dismal internal reputation to win over the business. So in 2002 he outsourced all IT infrastructure to Unisys to focus his department on making city government more efficient and responsive. He also renamed the department Business Information Services to put the emphasis on the information services the group provides to the business. He said that it took him "the better part of three to four years to gain the credibility that [the members of his department] are the ones that have the diplomacy in place and the understanding of business needs" to lead process change initiatives.

Members of the city council also felt threatened by the 311 system. They worried that they'd lose touch with their constituents, who could now dial 311 instead of calling their councillor for help.

Kaiser had a considerable sales job on his hands. He was certain that in spite of its bad rap, IT was best positioned to lead this monumental effort, which transcended the entire umbrella of city government. "I had to do a lot of selling to convince people that since IT is responsible for information services across the entire city, we cut across silos and are logically the best place to come to do things that involve change," says Kaiser.

Kaiser overcame resistance from Public Works and the City Council by articulating the unique benefits each would reap from the new system. For Public Works, explained Kaiser, the 311 system would free up employees by diverting calls to call-centre agents trained to answer questions about potholes, traffic lights and graffiti abatement. Kaiser also showed managers how they could use the CRM part of the system to track how long it took the department to address problems logged through the call centre and explained how that information would help them prioritize work and allocate staff.

Kaiser reminded city council members of the multitude of calls they get that should be directed to another branch of city government, such as Public Works. The 311 system would enable councillors to focus on the calls where they could have the greatest impact. He also showed them in demos how they could query the system from their PCs to see how many calls came in from their wards and the nature of those calls so that they could elect which ones to follow up on.

Kaiser understood his critics' businesses so well, he was able to develop convincing messages that addressed their concerns head on. Selling stakeholders on IT-led business process change, he says, is the role of the CIO today. "You have to have patience, a game plan, a vision, and be in a position to articulate what's at the end of this and why it's worth going through."

After a year spent selling city officials on the value of this 311 system, Kaiser obtained city funding and federal grant money for the project. Since the new $US6.3 million system went live in January 2006, an average of 67 percent of phone calls are resolved immediately, and calls are answered in an average of nine seconds. The launch of the 311 system also cemented the IT department's reputation as a true business partner and enabler.

"We have in essence become a business change agent in the city," says Kaiser. "It used to be when I walked the halls, people slammed their doors. Now they knock on my door and say: 'We need your help.'"

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