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This article was contributed by Thomas Donnelly, chief information officer of BetterCloud.

Technology progress is hobbled in the enterprise. It’s time to un-hobble it. 

Technology transformation is fundamental to every business that aims to run well and compete successfully. Our organization focuses on helping companies manage technology change and use it to transform — for the better — how departments do business. This gives us a continuous view of what works well in deploying new software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps. We also experiment internally to improve our own business agility and expansion, and we’re here to explain what we found works best for tech transformation.

While it’s ideal to plan and coordinate new technology imperatives strategically, many IT groups are trapped in reactive mode. As a result, they are off-balance, unprepared, and key considerations get overlooked. We’re going to recommend that you try a new method to leapfrog over the struggles of reactive mode. First, though, let’s look at what tends to go wrong with technology (SaaS, in particular) deployments.

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  • Application deployment projects are often frustrated by waits for some other department to finish a particular task. While you wait, forward movement is blocked. An implementation team can help by organizing and aligning the participants, who are typically busy and don’t see SaaS deployments as their top priority. 
  • Operating departments and their project participants typically have a very “local” perspective, so they are not aware of applications, data, or deployments in other departments. That leads to duplications and avoidable mismatches or incompatibilities.
  • Most companies are functional hierarchies. That can mean resistance to implementing applications across functions. Marketing is here; finance is separate over there. Sales is on another island. Departmental boundaries make it difficult to sync enterprise data with silos, so data integration takes inordinate effort. Implementers may take the easy route and create a silo for one workgroup. That immediately gives birth to problems that are tough to fix later. 

Nearly every company wants to implement more effectively across the enterprise and also avoid data and process siloes. There are often tradeoffs between meeting today’s needs in one department and fulfilling enterprise objectives. The department may prefer a specific app and vendor based on past familiarity, but the company seeks to avoid adding new SaaS vendors when a suitable application is already deployed in another department.

The embedded technology advocate and business analyst for Saas initiatives

In our experience, people are the key to technology transformation. Our SaaS initiatives enjoyed better outcomes when we embedded business analysts in departments, where they act as business partners, aligning technology with departmental objectives and corporate strategy. Their job starts with understanding a department’s needs. These analysts, whom we dubbed “embedded technology advocates” or advocates, are good at building trust and managing projects. 

An embedded advocate helps with SaaS projects in requirements definition, technology choices, implementation, and user onboarding/privilege assignment. They attend department meetings, understand the challenges, help propose future initiatives and build constructive relationships that bridge between departments, IT and senior management. They work daily to align a department’s apps, data and processes with the rest of the enterprise. 

How we went about it

We established a group of Advocates (feel free to label them tech guides or simply business analysts) who embed with each functional department. Each advocate typically represents two or three departments at once to the enterprise and IT. They stay busy; an embedded Advocate at a large company may take part in 10 to 30 deployments per year, or more. Some deployments will be multiple rollouts of the same app, but in different departments. 

We quickly saw that with advocates, the technology choices and deployments worked better. It was easy to see why. On their own, functional departments like marketing, sales, and purchasing are challenged to plan and complete new SaaS projects, especially when it comes to taking a cross-functional, enterprise view. Advocates quickly became experts in the subject of SaaS selection and implementation. 

To find embedded Advocates, you can both hire internally and recruit outside. Look for project management skills and operational experience. Sales operations and Finance experience have worked out well in this “analytic extrovert” role.

Putting embedded tech and SaaS advocates into action

Once assigned, the technology advocates meet regularly with their constituent departments and IT, security, and deployment teams. They learn the department’s processes and which data is important. The Advocates become their department’s primary contact for technology changes. 

The Advocate pulls the necessary contributors into a project when needed, which cuts the workload significantly. An Advocate actually makes technology decisions on behalf of the department, or at least plays an influential role in them. 

In this kind of structure, the advocate becomes trusted by the departments as well as by IT and security, and can be a trusted guide. 

The results are encouraging 

The results are promising. SaaS implementations and onboarding go faster, without disrupting operational teams. Creation of silos stops. The advocate completes work that department stakeholders don’t have the time, focus, cross-functional knowledge or motivation to do. 

We saw the embedded advocate approach reduced the time expended on SaaS implementations and deterred information silos. It helps make departmental data widely accessible and more valuable to the company. Local ‘invisible’ silos can hold information valuable to other departments; they shouldn’t be in the dark about what’s there and how it’s used. Advocates are committed to leveraging data; they work to synchronize and integrate silo data with enterprise resources. 

Whether an advocate embeds with two or three departments at once depends on experience, on their creativity, and their problem-solving ability. Advocates smooth the path and accelerate technology transformation. That brings IT to the forefront with more deployment successes, better data utilization, and positive reviews. 

The Embedded Technology Advocate approach has been highly effective here. We now recommend it to our customers who may deploy 20, 30, or even more applications yearly. We are excited to see the results it brings for them.

Thomas Donnelly is chief information officer of BetterCloud.

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