IT in the driver's seat: Redefining leadership in the WFH era

Someone sits in his home office on a meeting with his IT team

This article originally appeared on IT Toolbox.

Now that workforces are widely dispersed, it’s more challenging than ever to ensure work is aligned with the company strategy. Scott Lee, VP of Product, Workfront discusses how leading the charge of innovation lies squarely on the shoulders of senior IT executives who have a prominent role in ensuring post-pandemic survival. Here, Lee says now is the time for IT leaders to demonstrate clear direction and speak the language of business value.

In response to COVID-19, most businesses have been forced to transition to remote work—a shift that has become long-term for many. With widely dispersed teams — many for the first time — it’s never been more important to ensure that the work people are doing is aligned with company strategies — which have likely also shifted dramatically in the past few months.

Everyone is doing their best to manage work remotely and use resources appropriately to execute the right work. But even during “normal” times, Workfront’s 2020 State of Work Report found that only 43% of knowledge workers’ time was spent on the job they were hired to do. There are about 60 million knowledge workers in the U.S., costing on average $92,000 annually per person. If these workers spend most of their time (60%)  not  doing the work they were hired to do, that’s over $3 trillion in underutilized human capital. What company doesn’t care about that?

Work Demands Tier-One Treatment

All of this puts work and how it gets done at the top of the agenda. Work should be treated as a tier-one asset, given the same management focus and investment to drive profitability and growth as other business-critical assets, like finance, people, and customers.

The chief finance officer focuses on the way money is managed to drive growth and profitability. The chief HR officer is concerned with the business culture and how human capital is optimized to achieve business objectives. And the chief marketing and sales officers care about using customer insights to make products or experiences better to drive growth.

In this context, it’s clear to see why work itself needs to be given the same level of scrutiny and investment to ensure that the work done in the business is coordinated and aligned with company strategy to drive outcomes.

Treating work as a tier-one asset brings real opportunities for companies to actively manage work at an enterprise-level with visibility and management oversight of work across the organization. Having visibility into what work is getting done, how it contributes to strategic initiatives, if it’s getting done quickly enough, and the outcomes associated with it enables the iterative learning and improvement necessary to deliver continuous improvements.

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IT Holds the Key to Strategic Alignment

So, what role does IT play in all of this? According to IDC, IT is the group with the greatest purchasing power in every size company and frequently holds the final purchasing decision. That makes IT a valuable partner in determining which technologies will deliver the capabilities the business needs.

Now, in the new world of distributed remote work where technology plays a more crucial role than ever, IT needs to take a leading role in enabling strategic alignment across the organization by implementing the right technologies that make tracking, facilitating, supporting, and measuring work possible.

Organizations use tools to manage work within discrete areas. They have tools to help individual teams with task management, help planners with resource allocation, and help project managers coordinate activities across several teams. What’s missing is an enterprise solution that integrates the data and outputs from these discrete systems that serve as the backbone for monitoring, organizing, coordinating, and measuring work — and ensuring it’s aligned with business strategy.

Because IT is involved in technology decisions throughout the business, it understands the requirements of an enterprise solution with the capabilities to align everyone’s work to strategy.

IT Leaders Must Focus on Business Value

How can IT leaders ensure they are influential in major business decisions? They need to speak the language of business value. They need to demonstrate that actively and strategically managing work at an enterprise level and measuring the outcomes of what everyone is working on is ultimately what gives the company the ability to grow and move forward.

IT has shown the chief sales officer how IT can improve the throughput of work, the chief finance officer how IT solutions can deliver significant investment returns, and the chief HR officer how technology can optimize human resources and improve workplace culture.

At an enterprise level, IT must demonstrate how technology can ensure work remains aligned with the business strategy.

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Matching Technology to Objectives

The key is finding the right IT solutions for the right use cases. Some types of work are almost entirely transactional, which means they can be significantly automated. Other areas of work require human intellectual capability and skill. By finding the right IT solutions to enable and align all types of work to strategic objectives, IT can deliver significant value to the business.

IT must use its business understanding and insight to identify and implement the right systems to track, facilitate, and support dispersed and remote work across the enterprise, and ensure the appropriate use of resources to accomplish business goals and ensure business resilience amid uncertainty and a rapidly shifting market.

To succeed, IT leaders need to reimagine the way they operate and move at a faster pace to help their organizations execute on the right work. Now more than ever, IT is firmly in the driver’s seat, with a central role to play in ensuring businesses remain competitive and continue to thrive in today’s radically altered marketplace.