Harnessing Process Discipline and an Entrepreneurial Spirit to Advance IT

By Ngoni Murandu, CIO, NW Natural, a local gas distribution company

Many of us in the utility industry continue to rely on aging legacy systems. This technology represents the backbone of our operations, providing the reliability and predictability both we and the market demand.

But as the pace of technological advancement increases, we find that we must pair the needs of these older systems with the pursuit of innovative thinking. That important balancing act falls to our IT departments and points up the critical importance of process discipline.

The power of IT process discipline
A host of distractions can interrupt our honest intention to develop sound, effective solutions to the challenges we face. When you rely on long-standing systems, some of which may have been in place for decades, inertia can take hold: We do it this way because we’ve always done it this way. “Group think” can similarly stymie creativity, with IT opting for popular solutions even though they might not be right for the organization.

Another diversion can be what I call the “water cooler” request. Many of us are familiar with the scenario in which you are refreshing your morning coffee and a colleague approaches and petitions you to try this incredible new software solution he recently saw at a trade show. In this case, as with inertia and group think above, you risk overlooking the steps required to identify the best approach for your business.

Asking the right questions

Effective process discipline involves a few different facets which helps in sharpening the investigation and decision-making process. One starts by stepping back from what may be time-honored protocols to ensure you are asking the right questions:

  • What is the problem we are trying to solve?
  • What is our end goal?
  • Does our intended project align with established corporate goals?
  • What is the expected return?

Once these questions have been answered, execution should include the establishment of milestones and regular reviews with stakeholders to assess whether you are successfully meeting the outlined project charter.

Keeping your eyes open

Another key feature of successful process discipline is staying on the lookout for innovations poised to impact your business or industry.

Building this awareness means cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit within your IT team, also fostering creativity and curiosity. To be a leader in one’s industry some measure of responsible risk taking is necessary.One needs to bring the same passion and desire that is typically associated with a startup.

For this reason, I like to ask my team:“What would you do if it were your business?” It’s a meaningful question for us at NW Natural, as employees can also be stockholders, so it is, in point of fact, our business. That personalization ignites thoughtful investigation and experimentation. From idea to implementationWhen it comes to ultimately choosing a technology solution, we must begin with an accurate definition of the problem or challenge. Other questions follow, among them: What are the most important must-haves? Am I working with the right stakeholder? In some cases, you may determine the best route to success involves collaborating with different people. And don’t forget to consider the role of the business process.

Two partners likely to play a central role in your efforts are business analysts and solutions architects. These important actors assist in aligning the business process with the technology. They also provide an invaluable conduit to stakeholders, communicating project details and conveying the challenges and demands after implementation.

Putting it into practice

At NW Natural, we try to choose technology that can be easily integrated into our existing portfolio. To be an effective, lasting solution, it must allow information to easily pass to our data warehouse and beyond. It should also be consistent, repeatable, and logical, serving as an enabler and lubricant that helps make our business easier, faster, and more effective.
If process discipline focuses on the outcome from the start of the project, it becomes easier to chart progress and recognize success.