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Problem Solving as a key to Organizational Effectiveness with IT

June 18, 2009
by Travis Gathright
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In my previous post, I outlined six elements that are important to being effective with IT as an organization. The first I will expand upon is "Problem Solving."

Technology is simply an instrument like a saxophone, inanimate with the potential for sweet music or awful noise. Technology is a tool often without form. The central, and most difficult, element to attain in effectively using technology in an organization is problem solving. Problem solving is critical to understand how to give the tool the form needed, so it can be part of the cause to a desired effect.

Technology is often misunderstood as the entire answer, when it is only part of the answer. Bill Gates is quoted as saying, "The first rule of any technology used in a business is that the automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency ." Efficient operations do not just "drop out of the sky," they are actively created by people solving problems. With good problem solving, technology can be effective component of a good process.

In an Information Systems Department or in a Project Management Office, we might call this type of problem solving "business systems analysis" or "process analysis." These terms are quite accurate, but they are comprised of problem solving. When it's done right, it's fixing problems, and then ensuring the problems your fixes cause are fixed before they emerge.

In organizations that are most effect with technology, it is not just the "process analysts" that are good problems. Managers on the front-lines are the problem solvers. Managers on the front-lines understand how business is processed on a daily basis. They understand staff needs, patient needs, family needs, referral source needs, information needs, timing needs, and the many other factors that make up a work day. Managers often have the best information about the situation, which makes them the best positioned to quickly tame the toughest part of problem solving, understanding the problem.
Having a broad-base of people that understand how to use that information to feed a problem solving process, come up with pointed solutions or manipulations to the problems they see, and put those solutions into action in the way they were intended is critical to creating quality technology-enabled solutions. Along with creating the highest quality solutions, the technological aspect of a solution has a good chance of surviving the change process because it is just one more piece of something the Manager created and owns.

It has become an important theme in our field that technology implementations need to be driven by Operations to be successful. Cultivating the problem solving skill in an organization, and seeing some success can get people self-motivated to look to use technology to help their daily workflow. Raising the overall level of problem solving ability is an effective and natural way to get to the highest quality solutions and the ownership needed to be successful with technology in an organization.

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Comments

Thanks for this Travis. Do you believe that organizations tend to exclude front-line managers from high-level decision-making bodies, like steering committees. If the front-line managers are critical to understanding the challenges the business faces "in the trenches," how can a steering committee without them have any sense of direction?

Travis Gathright

CIO and Corporate Compliance Officer, Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, Philadelphia

@travisgathright

As CIO, Travis Gathright's responsibilities include IT strategic planning,...