Last year for Christmas, 611 Radio Shack stores across Canada got an early present that employees would probably have been just as happy to get later. On top of the usual seasonal craziness, head office decided to push through a communications upgrade project to put broadband data
connections in every store. This was in December.
“”It was the worst possible time,”” admits Radio Shack Canada vice-president of information services Margo Weeks. And because Weeks’ group is relatively small — only 25 people — and the stores so far flung, project success hinged on local staff helping out at a time when they were already run off their feet.
It’s the kind of situation that in many companies would lead to a lot of dark muttering or, worse, passive resistance. But not at Radio Shack. “”Pretty well without exception, store staff came around and did everything they could to help,”” Weeks says. “”It took a lot of teamwork to pull it off, but we did it.””
To Weeks this is one clear demonstration of how her regime at Radio Shack Canada has managed to bring IT and business into closer alignment — closer than in the past at Radio Shack and closer than in most other companies. It’s largely a question of trust, she says. The businesses trust IT. They’ve seen what Weeks and her people can do for them.
“”Now, instead of a bunch of business leaders getting together, discussing something they think is the greatest idea in the world and then bringing in IT and saying, ‘Okay, make it happen,’ we’re actually helping guide the process right from the start.””
That means better ideas, less time wasted trying to figure out which path to go down and less time wasted going down wrong paths, Weeks says. At Radio Shack, she notes, IT is the one group that knows everybody’s business. And that is certainly one way to ensure IT and business are aligned.
Business-IT alignment: it’s one of the great IT — or is it business? — concepts of the late 1990s. Make sure IT does what the business needs it to do — and not anything else. It seems so simple and obvious. One understands intuitively. Or does one?
According to Silicon Valley IT consultant Sanjeev Agrawal, managing director at Mainstay Partners LLC of Redwood Shores, Calif., most companies don’t really understand the concept — or if they do, they don’t act as if they do. Mainstay, a spin-off from Cisco Systems, has made it its mission to help companies properly align IT with business. Few manage to do it on their own, Agrawal notes.
He cites three “”factoids”” to prove the point. They come out of research Mainstay did with about 500 companies. Only 12 per cent, he says, knew how to accurately calculate return on investment for IT projects. “”Even after investing millions on ERP programs like SAP”” Ninety-five per cent routinely over-spent on IT projects. And in 90 per cent, unit managers felt IT didn’t understand their b