As I meet with Manufacturing clients, several IT topics bubble up into the conversation:

Communications

COOs say: “I do not understand IT.” – They tell me that they try to understand, but the jargon prohibits a real understanding of the issues. COOs are bottom line driven and want to manufacture products, manage inventory and ship complete and on time as inexpensively as possible. They do not care about routers and access points.

IT says: “The operations team doesn’t even try to understand IT.” – Sometimes, IT people get frustrated because everyone else gets to talk in their own special vernacular. Operations folks talk about BOMs, WIP and JIT. It is safe to say we both have our share of TLAs (Three-Letter-Acronyms).    

Thoughts: Resolving our communications issues are not difficult.  The common language of business is business.  IT folks, the language barrier is all on us. Business leaders should not have to understand Technical jargon.  Communicate with words everyone understands. Ops folks, meet us in the middle. We live in a technology-driven world. Ask IT to explain if they use a word you do not understand.  

Collaboration

COOs say: “IT people do not work well with others.” – I think it goes back to the 1970’s when we used the term “Glass House” to describe the IT department and the glass walls of the data center.  When things got a little dicey, we retreated to the safety of our Fortress of Solitude.  The physical glass house is gone but the attitude lives on.

IT says: “The operations folks think we are little more than hardware jockeys.” – First of all, the term “hardware jockey” provides such a comical image to me. IT people voice that they are not included in strategic planning or plant design. IT folks want everyone to see them as solvers of impossible problems and dedicated ‘round the clock magicians. But never business strategists.   

Thoughts: I don’t think we CIOs do a very good job of assimilating IT people into the business world.  I’ve worked in companies that have mentoring as an onboarding strategy.  But the mentors were always from the new employee’s department. Let’s assign the COO as the mentor for the new application developer.  Make the CIO the mentor for the new shipping coordinator.  Maybe the business folks will see that IT people are just people, and IT folks will appreciate how hard it is to manage 35,000 SKUs purchased from 13 countries, stored across five warehouses. 

Empathy

COOs say: “I’m not real sure what IT people even do, but we have a lot of them.” – Executives know that technology runs their company. Without an ERP, you cannot order components, make finished goods, ship products or process invoices. Technology scares them because it is so important to the success of operations and the business, and they don’t fully understand it – their words, not mine. 

IT says: “No one outside of IT appreciates the after-hours it takes to keep systems functioning.” – IT people have the responsibility to keep applications updated, servers patched and hardware refreshed. Changes and updates occur when the impact to the business is at a minimum – yep, the middle of the night and on holiday weekends. 

Thoughts: It takes the skills from every department to run a company. Be a team. And for my IT peeps out there, no complaining about the hours. You knew what you were signing up for when you chose IT as your career. Ops folks, please be a little more considerate and appreciative.  Chances are, a team of IT folks will miss family time to work over the next holiday weekend to patch servers so there is no downtime for the shop floor.    

Action Steps: Every problem needs a champion or two to effect real change. So here is your homework, CIOs and COOs:

1. Create a small committee with the COO and the CIO. Meet monthly to look for ways to collaborate at a strategic level. Attend each other’s staff meetings.  

2. CIOs: Learn how manufacturing works and get all of IT to start communicating as teammates with operations.  

3. COOs: Sell the talents and contributions of IT to the rest of the operations team. Talk up the new efficiency features in the warehouse management system. You are the new IT cheerleader.   

4. It’s time for IT to take a field trip. Walk out onto the shop floor. Meet the shift supervisors, the QC inspectors and the machine operators. I used to ride around on a fork truck and talk to the driver about system problems he struggles with daily. I learned that sometimes he finds a stray pallet of products on the floor. He said that if he had an option on his scanner to scan the license plate and see where it belonged, he would put it back. Who knew? I do now.

Real-CIO Consulting is a professional services organization founded to provide strategic CIO consulting services to companies that cannot justify a full-time CIO or IT department.  It provides mentoring services to those looking to enter or advance in their technology careers.  Most importantly, it is founded to “Pay IT Forward” for a career that has been so rewarding.