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"Me Do It"

Updated: Apr 12

A familiar phrase my youngest used to say when she didn't want oversight, focused intently on a single task like a solitary walk to retrieve a frisbee from the street. Despite various messaging about automobile traffic, she was oblivious to the external impact on herself or those around her. The results of "Me Do iT" could have been disastrous. I think it's a fitting phrase for what happens when individual business units or departments are focused or allowed to focus on their own IT needs with little understanding of its impact. Disparate initiatives without an overall IT strategy and vendors not fully understanding overall business goals performing traditional break-fix can run your organization off the rails, or worse, prevent your technology from being flexible when it's most needed.

IT Management has evolved to the point where just having a seat at the organizational table isn't enough. Success means creating a cohesive IT strategy, fostering trust across all business units, so stakeholders trust it and adhere to it. So they involve IT leadership at the first sign of changing needs or when unexpected opportunities arise. Communication and belief in the process ensure every stakeholder can react quickly to unpredictable modifications in the market.

It sounds a little basic to mention this, as one would assume tech leadership has all these responsibilities in their purview, and everyone trusts them? However, that's not always the case. Today's IT to-do list perpetually bloats with new requests as capabilities evolve and stakeholders don't have adequate time to digest all the complexities of a technical solution. When you pile on the fact that mission creep is a naturally existing state within organizational IT and failing to manage change or growth with a cohesive, consistently followed strategy, you have a brilliant recipe to blunt opportunities for significant gains or accelerate your business's demise.

Back in the day, regardless of business size, IT departments were focused on break-fix. Teams repaired hardware and reacted to system outages, while their leadership focused on minimizing time to address support issues and keep resolution stats high. Having a seat at the table as an IT lead meant simply understanding what everyone's needs were, then providing solutions or vendors to meet those requirements. The roadmap, if one existed, was dictated at much higher levels. If you were a franchisee, the brand level dictated your path or focused on growth goals but might misdirect technology spending. Cutting-edge alternative solutions were expensive, primarily out of reach, and those operators trying to meet growth expectations while keeping the doors open were less than interested. Regardless of how you rolled, it didn't feel great, but all seemed to work ok.

As software and applications have become more and more critical, cost-effective, available, and the role of IT becomes increasingly proactive, the appetite for solutions and the to-do list is even more significant. Increased ease of adoption allows individual business units to "Me Do It" and take on technical initiatives faster with less knowledge or understanding of the overall impact of one-off solutions, untested vendors, or what evolving security threats they may create. Managed solutions make inexperienced stakeholders feel good but perpetuate their lack of understanding. Corporate ownership believes the ability to run faster with ideas and innovation sounds like a good thing and believes "Me Do It" is an A-OK modus allowing rogue implementation outside of "the strategy." Such short-sightedness to move faster can wreak havoc.

Not developing or following an IT strategy in today's rapid evolution of capabilities can make it prohibitively expensive for any organization to succeed. Groups with a roadmap but lacking commitment from each silo to hold fast to this overall strategy face a significantly higher and hard-to-track spend. If you add to either of these the wasted resources, setbacks in operations, and lost profits, then the ability to pivot when you need it is non-existent. There's no "striking while the iron is hot," as they say, or reconfiguring gracefully to weather the storm. Successful IT requires thoughtful, collaborative input, agreement, and willingness to trust the process top to bottom so that function and flexibility reign supreme.

The old-school approach to IT has always allowed management to react adequately each time they saw a puff of smoke. When Covid-19 arrived in the US as an opaque black cloud, visible horizon to horizon, everyone that lacked an inclusive strategy was caught flat-footed. Reactionary old-school IT wasn't much of an option and forced these businesses to conserve cash, hanging on if they could until things like PPP arrived, or worse. During the pandemic, companies have had a ringside seat to a worst-case scenario for IT and its ability to be innovative, resilient, or a total flop.

A great example of this is restaurant companies. A historic opportunity presented itself as lock-downs rolled across the US in early 2020. Consumers suddenly needed in-home replacement meals curbside, or they required reliable delivery, requiring speed in contactless, convenience, and safety. The ability to successfully meet this demand depended on the length of time an organization could retool traditional business workflows. Successful restaurateurs deployed solutions quickly because they had solid technical footings from the field to the home office, including well-disciplined business units inside the organization.

At the brand level, the complexity caused by Covid's rapidly changing landscape further perpetuated a need to distribute IT resources across the business. Not "Me Do It" but a well-coordinated effort that allowed individual departments to lead franchisees and vendors with cohesive initiatives within the strategy ahead of time. In smaller organizations, including IT at the table and fostering trust inside each unit to operate within the roadmap ensured flexibility for this unprecedented business need. The most successful transformed into models of efficiency, new ways of doing business, and new levels of customer service that not only endeared long-time customers but converted those who had switched from other concepts that could not meet demand.

Almost overnight, experimental programs for getting contactless meals out quicker, for cashless payment systems, socially distanced management communications, and a migration to quickly replace platforms that weren't conducive to speed or safety deployed. Over the course of 2020, the worst year for the restaurant industry in its history, most franchise and local eateries figured it out, stemming the loss of 2.5 million industry jobs. Additionally, other sectors followed suit with similar abilities to pivot in the hotel, retail, and even vaccination rollouts.

Strategic IT played a significant role in these success stories, I believe, by allowing companies to propel themselves through the worst part of the pandemic through a pre-existing flexible and trusted technical base within organizations or the vendors supporting them. Forward-thinking groups that positioned themselves to lean into the pandemic encouraged and enabled innovative solutions for operations, people, marketing, and speed of service. The results were remarkable with delighted customers, more efficient operations, improved safety, and record profits. The work thus far finds us in a strange new, somehow more convenient economy that goes well beyond food service and may have staying power.

On the other side of the coin, organizations that were more reactionary and had little or poorly followed strategies, especially in the businesses hardest hit, quickly went downhill. Failing entities could not flex and innovate because the required rethink hadn't occurred beforehand, or IT expenditure was an unpleasant cost of doing business. The resulting cacophony blunted immediate understanding of how their organizations operated technically as most IT functions were disparate or missing and left very few options for these groups to pivot. Tragically businesses such as this were faced with frantically understanding the needs of their consumers and maintaining their labor base.

There are other examples and certainly many exceptions that have successfully adapted over the last 18 months. Unfortunately, of the more than 110,000 eating and drinking establishments that closed in 2020, very few may rally, and sadly, their wage earners will be faced with a second hardship when subsidies run out. The overall impact that well-coordinated IT leadership has is often overlooked, misunderstood, or assumed it's good because your vendor has checked the box. Verifying this leadership, the plan, and the avoidance of "Me Do It" within business units makes success less challenging to achieve, especially during the storms, the likes of which we're coming out of now.


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