Three Tips for Creating a Business-Savvy Information Technology Staff

Three Tips for Creating a Business-Savvy Information Technology Staff

Your information technology staff is a great resource for competitive advantage, but only if you help your employees understand how the company makes money.

Map IT Functions to Business Processes

When Sreelakshmi Kolli took the job of director of global IT operations for Align Technology two years ago, she was often awakened at night because system administrators could not understand what they should be looking for to fix a user's problem.

The company, which makes Invisalign clear braces, relies heavily on IT to produce its products; customer-facing applications are tightly integrated with the ERP and manufacturing systems. But the help desk didn't understand how all of the systems and manufacturing machines were integrated to scan and manufacture a 3D dental impression -- a highly intricate process.

If a business user called with a scanning problem, the help desk didn't necessarily know which part of the process was not working. The same would be true for the system administrator who would see working machines, but no problem with a file transfer application being able to find the right file.

Kolli decided that the solution to better IT support and a good night's sleep lay in fostering a more integrated view of business processes and IT operations. To start, she sent many of her employees out to the manufacturing sites to learn about the equipment and systems they were servicing from the user's point of view. But she also wanted to document that business-centric view.

To do this, she had her staff map out the company's business processes to each application and the machines they run on and show how each connected to the others. The map is a powerful illustration of how the employees who create and service each system contribute to Align's top line. It also works as a tool to show which systems impact revenue the most and which processes needed infrastructure improvements. Today, the map is used as a training tool for new employees in IT to help understand high-level business process and systems flow.

Kolli, who is currently the director of business performance improvement at Align, now spends her days looking for constraints in the company's end-to-end business processes in order to create improvements.

"Understanding the relationship between how the business makes money and the work we do everyday helps the engineers appreciate the purpose behind their jobs and have a perspective and an appreciation of the business users' requests," says Kolli. "This in turn helps us create better partnerships with the business users."

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