Re-architecting IT for business growth

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By  Published  November 30, 2006

Traditionally, IT in business organisations has played a reactive role taking care of pure technological issues. As part of its responsibilities, the IT department used to work with such projects like implementing a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, Healthcare Information System (HIS), Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system or any other software that was chosen for the particular organisation. Company infrastructure is also something that the IT department is responsible for to make sure computers, printers, fax machines and entire network perform properly.

Naturally, issues related to communication like Internet, e-mail, tele- and videoconferences have also always been on the IT department's table.

All these responsibilities are support functions that IT performs. It might affect your organisation's daily work, causing delays if something goes wrong and your sales personnel is not able to send a purchase offer to a customer, but perfectly working infrastructure, though it's important, is not something that will bring you more customers. Customers come for the service, not for the infrastructure. Bad communication can blow away your business but good communication probably will not bring you many new deals.

To make IT the driving force for your organisation's business, the traditional reactive role of IT must be shifted to a proactive role. The IT department should align itself with business goals of your organisation. These goals, very generally speaking, are pretty common for any organisation - increase sales and profit by getting new customers, getting old customers coming back, provide better services and find out ways to offer new services. Let's consider the real life example to understand how IT might become proactive in helping a business organisation to increase sales.

The example we will consider is similar to almost everybody who has ever paid a visit to a doctor. Step by step, the procedure of how a patient visits a doctor is as follows.

1. Booking the appointment - patient calls to the clinic or hospital making an appointment with a doctor. Phone operator registers the patient and books time for a visit.

2. Patient admission - when the time comes, the patient is admitted by the doctor. As a result of this visit, the doctor can decide that the patient needs to have additional procedures like a blood test or an X-ray. Another option is that doctor can prescribe some medications and book a follow up appointment with the patient.

3. Insurance claim: Since healthcare is not free in this part of the world as it mostly is in many European countries, we would assume that the patient has medical insurance that covers his expenses for a visit to the hospital.

In this scenario the doctor prepares the bill to send it to the respective insurance company. Let's now see how IT could place the active role in our example.

Booking the appointment

As a normal business procedure, the telephone operator has to register the patient in the Hospital Information System and change the schedule of the particular doctor who is supposed to admit the patient. Going further, the IT department could suggest additional services - e.g. reminder by SMS one day in advance, so that patient will not miss the visit.

By implementing this additional feature, your organisation shows that it cares about your customer's time and makes your customer feel valuable. Obviously, this additional feature is not needed to run your business, but it adds more value for your customer.

Patient admission

While the doctor admits the patient, it's a standard feature that the Hospital Information System would allow the doctor to book other medical procedures like a blood test or follow up meeting with the patient. Additionally, the IT department might have the initiative to integrate the entire hospital system with clinical decision support solutions, like a drug database, to be able to check if medications that the doctor prescribes to the patient will not cause any allergic reaction, or they do not interact with each other causing injuries to the patient. According to the statistics presented in the Medical Error symposium in Bahrain in November 2005, the direct cost of medication errors in the UAE is about US$50 million per year. The cost for Saudi Arabia is about $340 million per year. This cost is paid back by patients, hospitals and insurance companies.

Another good idea that the IT department might implement is to provide customers with direct access to their data over the internet as an additional service free of charge. It makes it convenient for a patient to read the results of his tests over the web, and what is more important, doctor's comments. This additional service is not required to run your daily business, but it adds value for customers, because they can get updated results in seconds without making a call to the hospital or paying a visit. It also saves time for phone operators, allowing them to help other customers.

Insurance claim

The IT department might also suggest using price control procedures making it possible for a doctor to select a cheaper alternative for a prescribed medicine. Usually, even with medical insurance, the patient would still pay a certain amount for each medication, so why must your customer pay more? This way you establish a trust relationship with your customer, showing him that you care about his budget.

Finally, giving the IT department an active role in your organisation will make your customer come back to you as well as recommend your organisation to other people who might become your customers in future. This will bring you customer confidence and increase sales.

Changing the IT department to play an active role in the organisation will definitely put a lot of pressure on the CIO or IT manager. In addition to coming up with value-added procedures, there are several other trends that affect the daily work of the IT department these days.

1. Mobile office - the concept of having a working place virtually anywhere in the world, with access to e-mails, working files and even the corporate system and data from mobile devices like a laptop or PDA.

2. Storage capacity - USB drives and the latest models of mobile phones make it easy to save information in many different places.

3. Security of portable devices - Both mobile devices and wide distribution of different storages like USB drives bring security to the top of the CIO's priority list. USB drives have become so small that it's easy to lose them. The risk of having a laptop, mobile phone or USB drive stolen must also be considered since having your data in somebody else's hands might hurt your organisation.

4. Expansion of VoIP - it might help your organisation to reduce the bills for phone calls and add value by getting new additional services that you can't get from your existing phone operator.

5. Growth in open source products - from the first view it might look like an excellent idea to use open source products in your organisation because you immediately cut the cost of licenses that you would otherwise need to purchase for commercial software. In addition, you have access to the source code and can make a hot fix in-house if needed. The problem comes with the fact that open source products usually have patches and fixes pretty often and you need to use your own resources to test the updates and distribute them on your users' computers. Many companies soon find that the cost of maintenance and integration of open source products is equal to, and sometimes even exceeds, the cost of supporting commercial software. It makes sense in this case to work with companies that are specialised in pre-integrated suites of open source products - and this is what a CIO would seriously need to consider when making the decision to work with open source software. Aligning IT with the business goal of the organisation means that IT manager will get the confidence of the senior management team, which is most important decision maker in the organisation. Increasingly, the CIO is now at the executive table and reports directly to the CEO rather than the Chief Financial Officer as it used to be before.

These changes mean that organisations have started to re-consider the role of IT in their business - they are putting more attention on how technology might help the company to grow by providing better services and attracting new customers. g

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