The IT department as a driver of digitization

In Digitization, Employee networkingby Elisabeth Schuller

Businesses need to work increasingly collaboratively and across departments to unlock the potential of digitization. Personal exchange and communication play a decisive role here. Information technology is turning into a central hub for revolutionary changes. IT departments have to reorient themselves accordingly. They become the designers of transformation and new business processes.

 Digitization requires collaboration between colleagues across departments and hierarchy levels. For this purpose, silos must be systematically dismantled – which changes the demands on the corporate culture. In this context, the IT department plays a decisive role. While, a few years ago, it was primarily responsible for making technology work, its role has changed radically in the meantime. Today, IT not only has to be able to think consistently from the customer’s point of view, but also to help shape the company’s strategy and respond to new demands at numerous points in the value chain. The very fact that these continue to develop so rapidly, makes the task so critical. IT is in a special situation: It is at the same time enabling and profiting from new networks.

From AI to Blockchain – new challenges for IT

Megatrends such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, the use of mobile apps or augmented and virtual reality are currently shaping the future of companies. Other developments like Blockchain are standing on the threshold. At the same time, Industry 4.0 presents immense opportunities and great challenges for the economy. In view of such developments, the competence of IT specialists is in high demand. They have to decide or advise the management on whether, where and how the use of new technologies makes sense in the company.

Software experts increasingly need skills that go far beyond technological know-how. The required skills have increased significantly with the different and yet related technological trends. IT departments are expected to thoroughly understand business requirements and fulfil them with the right hardware and software solutions. In other words, economic and analytical skills must be accompanied by technological expertise.  Last but not least, a profound knowledge of the market and the competition is needed. Although that is not necessarily something new in theory, it often looks different in business practice. For example, the 2018 digitization monitor from Bearing Point shows that the majority of employees do not feel well informed about their companies’ digital strategy. The numbers are striking, especially among non-executive employees: 75 percent of them do not know the digitization strategy or even assume their employer has none. In view of this, it should come as no surprise that, according to a survey by the Handelsblatt, barely 38 percent of companies in Germany consider their own employees to be qualified for digitization.

More networking for better communication and exchange

An essential lever to better meet today’s challenges in the future is to link internal IT specialists and business departments. A stronger exchange will create the foundation to increase digitization skills across the entire workforce. This has various positive effects from a strategic as well as an operational point of view: When technology specialists actively involve their business colleagues and help them to understand digital processes and software tools, the IT support is relieved. The effect also works in the opposite direction: the IT department has a responsible role to play in creating the basis for better networking. It should be involved in the selection of software tools that help build networks and connect colleagues from different fields.

This is how companies create sustainable structures for networking between IT and business departments:

Informal exchange between experts: Interdepartmental networking using the principle of chance – independent of meetings and workshops – fits particularly well with informal learning. This often results in extraordinary opportunities for companies. When a specialist from the IT department and a colleague from a business department start talking to each other, for example during a Mystery Lunch, new ideas and a basis for new solutions can emerge. In order to trigger the so-called serendipity principle, software tools are recommended that connect colleagues at random.

 Cross-functional teams: When specialists from different areas sit around a table, something new can arise. The experts work together on one goal and combine different competences. The team combines different competences and the members learn from each other. Software solutions help companies bring together experts who are the perfect match. In the process, criteria must be defined in advance that the system takes into account – such as work area, work experience, age or gender.

Learning tandems and (reverse) mentoring: Studies show that, in everyday life, informal learning is more important for employees than formal training. The 70:20:10 model underlines the importance of “learning on the job”: only 10 percent of job-relevant knowledge is learned through training or self-study. About 20 percent result from the exchange with colleagues. The lion’s share of 70% is based on experience. Through collaboration in the form of learning tandems, an exchange of this essential expertise between employees from different areas and departments can be achieved. The same applies to mentoring programs which not only make sense in a top-down setup, but also the other way round: the executive learns from the employee. Software tools can also help to match the right partners.

Job Shadowing: Spending a day with a colleague – this allows employees to change their perspective and develop a sense of how other departments work. So good ideas can be adopted. In addition, a better understanding arises: the background for certain processes and procedures becomes comprehensible. Here, too, informal learning takes center stage.

Internal Barcamps: One day, many new ideas – that is what Barcamps, which regularly take place in almost all cities today, promise. Each participant can offer their own session on a topic of their choice. Even as an internal corporate event, a barcamp has a lot of potential: employees have the opportunity to present their topics and projects. Likewise, they can initiate an exchange on this.

Documentation and knowledge sharing tools: Personal contact is essential for building and expanding skills. It is equally important to record the findings. Clean software documentation and internal knowledge bases are just as important as other knowledge sharing and collaboration tools. Related goals: Making knowledge accessible across departmental boundaries and facilitating an improved exchange between experts.

Co-creation areas: Physical spaces for collaboration support better collaboration and space for inventiveness. Even creatively designed coffee kitchens can fulfill this purpose. The focus is on bringing colleagues together and improving communication.

Conclusion

IT departments are facing numerous challenges with digitization – and each one of them represents a great opportunity. When companies support the exchange between IT and buspiness departments, they create a good basis for successfully mastering the transformation.