Mike Jennings knows a thing or two about fast-paced businesses and demanding customers. As the former senior director of IT at LinkedIn and now the head of IT at Airbnb, Jennings is used to a neo-startup environment where the speed of business is breakneck and the customer — who is both tech-savvy and exacting — is king.
Like his fellow honorees in the 2015 class of Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders, Jennings is acutely aware that IT must take the lead on creating solutions and can't afford to break its laser focus on business needs, even for a day.
"To support a savvy, fast-moving and technical employee base, we needed to provide both innovative and effective solutions at a regular cadence," says Jennings of his time at LinkedIn. "It was incumbent upon us to predict and forecast what could enhance the business processes rather than waiting for someone to ask us for a solution."
Jennings discovered that the way to deliver stellar results quickly and repeatedly is to structure a strong, collaborative IT-to-business connection before a single requirement gets written.
At Airbnb, Jennings is in the process of deploying business engagement teams, made up of one or more business analysts and solutions architects, to ensure IT's contributions are squarely focused on the company's goal of improving the customer experience. Likewise, at Royal Caribbean Cruises, CIO Bill Martin is integrating global business solutions teams of IT specialists into every one of the company's business functions.
Along the same lines, the Las Vegas city government has embedded IT business partners within municipal departments, while tech workers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education are empowered to create ad hoc, free-form working groups with their business counterparts to solve problems and think up innovative plans without needing executive approval.
And at Booz Allen Hamilton, Kevin Winter, vice president and CIO, is using a three-tiered approach — an executive-heavy IT Operations Group at the top, a Strategic Innovation Group at the business-unit level and a "Jedi" group of younger workers, ages 20 to 30, spread throughout the organization — to make sure IT is in alignment with Booz Allen's corporate mission.
Tech leaders committed to helping the business find new ways to work need to identify the right IT people and then create ongoing opportunities for them to collaborate creatively with their business unit counterparts, says George Westerman, a research scientist at the MIT Sloan Initiative on the Digital Economy.
Those opportunities don't necessarily have to happen in the same physical space — though being in the same room at the same time is often enormously beneficial, Westerman — but CIOs do need to create what he calls "mindspace" for employees to be able to formulate and flesh out new ideas. "If you are running a shop where everybody is working 60 hours a week, nobody will have the time to think about innovating," Westerman warns.
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