IT and Commercial Operations: Friend or Foe?

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InformationWeek estimates that somewhere between 37% and 75% of technology projects fail – quite an astonishing rate.  When applied to the Life Sciences industry, could part of this failure be due to the fact that all too often IT and Commercial Operations are operating as complete strangers, rather than a friendly team?

Clearly, every company is different and the working relationships between IT and Comm Ops vary as much as a company’s culture and politics. In some instances, Comm Ops manages their own domain-specific IT needs, be it CRM or analytical solutions.  In other companies, however, IT is the gatekeeper and has the final say in technology decisions.  In what is probably the best scenario, some companies even allow technology decisions and responsibility to be jointly shared.

Part of the challenge around achieving synergy between these two groups may be due to conflicting goals.  While both groups are accountable to a budget, they may view and utilize those dollars in very different ways.  From a technology perspective, Comm Ops may think their needs are unique to the company; they have the primary goal of servicing Sales and Marketing in the fastest and most user friendly manner possible.  After all, dollars are on the line, revenue feeds the company and Field Sales is hired and rewarded to sell.

IT, on the other hand, may consider technology solutions from more of an enterprise perspective.  Technology can be expensive; when evaluating solutions they may think about what platforms could be used jointly across the company, what technology fits in best with existing infrastructure, or where the industry is trending technically.  Sometimes this means a slower time to system deployment or a tool that is not as user friendly.

For example, a BI tool may be selected that meets some of the needs of everyone, from Finance to Accounting to Sales Analytics, but nobody is happy with the outcome.  From an IT perspective, however, they are supporting one tool vs. many. They may also believe they are reaching economies of scale with one, universal platform – which may not necessarily be true if every user group is performing sub optimally.

So, how do you get both groups to work together and achieve their goals?

In a recent survey, over 600 business leaders were asked about the use of Big Data. Of these 600 individuals, 75% believed that their organizations are data-driven, meaning that they take into account the goals and data collected from all departments.  Even more important is that 85% said that the issue when it comes to big data and data collection is that it’s not about volume but more about the ability to scrutinize this data and act on it in real-time. This data can only be collected and then utilized effectively if all departments understand the goal they are working towards achieving together.

In order to bring IT and Commercial Operations together, the following steps are recommended. First, building a strong working relationship of mutual respect is critical.  IT should position itself as a knowledgeable and resourceful partner to Comm Ops.  Meanwhile, Comm Ops needs to share its pain points and vision with IT and listen to their partner’s feedback.

Second, decisions should be made as a team.  When evaluating vendors, having both groups at the table, each contributing their own domain experience enables them to see eye to eye and kick off from a unified starting point. A solution that may look good to one group may not be as compelling when considered from a different angle.

Third, own the decision – work together during solution design, implementation and beyond.  Plenty of IT staff have been through this experience before and can push and guide the process.  In the meantime, Comm Ops know the user requirements and can get instant feedback by picking up the phone. Once the solution is deployed, having resources available to jointly resolve a problem expedites issue resolution.  For example, if metrics aren’t looking quite right, it is helpful to have an IT person review how the data was processed.  Meanwhile, a Comm Ops analyst can review the data set for inconsistencies or known changes that would cause the effect, such as a change in territory alignment or non-reporting data source.

By viewing each other as friends rather than foes, both IT and Commercial Operations can develop a much better solution for both parties.  By agreeing on project ROI success metrics (such as overall system utilization, impact to sales or forecast accuracy) both parties can ensure they are true to their goals.