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Should you consider forming an IT advisory committee?

INSIGHT ARTICLE  | 

IT is an enabler of innovation and competitive advantage. As a support function, not on the front lines like marketing or operations, the importance of that role might be overlooked. IT is far more than just keeping existing systems functioning—its real value is developed through a constant focus on acquiring and deploying technologies that drive innovation and enable advancement toward business goals. To do this job effectively, IT and the operational functions within the enterprise must work closely together to guide strategic decisions and think long-term about technology and how it can help advance the organization.

One way many successful companies are approaching this is by forming an IT advisory committee. If the role of this group sounds similar to the function of the corporation’s board of directors, there’s a reason: the two structures are both concerned with the big picture and the long-term direction of the enterprise, as well as the importance of effective use of resources to achieve corporate goals. Like the board of directors, the IT advisory committee consists of a mix of individuals from leadership roles across the organization, day-to-day users of the technology, and advisors from outside the business, such as academics, IT consultants, or other influential leaders in the industry.

Instead of being internally focused, as an IT governance committee would be, the IT advisory committee is focused on external challenges and opportunities. This group is concerned with identifying and deploying the right technologies to support today’s operations, as well as keeping an eye on what’s going on in the industry at a macro level. Since the IT governance committee is focused on high-level factors, it only needs to meet on a quarterly or semi-annual basis in most cases.

Certainly, IT will be very aware of technological developments and future directions, perhaps more so than the operational leaders in the advisory committee. The role of IT leadership on the committee is to make non-IT business leaders aware of emerging developments so that they can think about how they will affect their competitive position and the future direction of the company. Conversely, the other business leaders and external contributors can help IT understand the competitive marketplace and the role that IT and systems can play in helping the company move forward and remain competitive. Armed with this insight, IT can be more intelligently watchful for new technologies that could be leveraged in support of future growth and change.

If done effectively, this becomes a constant two-way exchange of information. Operational leaders may become aware of technologies that are entering their markets from observing competitors’ actions, trade shows and industry publications, or trade groups and professional associations, which IT may not be aware of or understand the potential importance of, and vice versa.

It’s really all about communication—in both directions—that enables the committee to deliver value for the enterprise. Ideally, IT will learn about changing needs and projected developments in the industry and how they could affect business strategy. The rest of the organization should become more aware of emerging technologies that may offer benefits in the foreseeable future. All participants should be better able to see how new technologies can support—or even drive—strategic goals and plans of the business.

The thoughts, ideas and guidance from the IT advisory committee should be incorporated into IT governance, strategic plans and budgets, and enterprise growth plans.

Establishing an IT advisory committee is an excellent way for organizations to ensure alignment between IT and operations so that operations will have the technology it needs to succeed in achieving corporate strategic goals. It also provides direction and context for IT, in conjunction with the IT governance mechanism, to carry that alignment through to annual budgets, technology purchases and individual projects as IT continues to apply all available resources in support of valid company needs, especially those that support strategic objectives. 

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