Establishing business processes can already seem like a hassle, only to be further complicated by a lack of strong vision and ownership in most cases. To solve this, there is no “one size fits all” solution. However, focusing on a business strategy can yield measurable results.

How can you save time and avoid stress? By adopting a comprehensive understanding of the organizational impact of the roles and decisions needed to make business more efficient.

Mark Settle, former CIO at Okta, and Eric Tan, CIO at Coupa, spoke about this in detail at Biz Systems Magic, the first and only conference for Systems leaders. In their keynote speech, the CIOs discussed the steps necessary to achieving growth through business systems and continuous best practices for a fast paced, constantly-evolving tech environment.

Okta and Coupa’s Business Strategy on Governance and its Effect on Efficiency 

Following Mark’s presentation, Tan starts by explaining a recent company project to consolidate 120 approval chains to just 15 within his Applications team. The project hit a roadblock when the efforts for simplification were thwarted by a 15-page Visio diagram. After two months, Tan’s Head of Apps said the project still lacked the five rules he wanted in the approval chain and had to go back to the development team to start over. Tan mainly took this as a lesson in tailoring your message to your audience, but also saw this as an opportunity to weigh business governance against efficiency.

Subsequently, Tan highlights that Coupa adopted a hybrid approach to jurisdiction and expanded on the pitfalls of traditional governance practices. He asserts that a decentralized approach leads to a sprawl of both data and applications, which results in loss of control – but that a centralized approach, on the other hand, can result in micromanagement and over-controlling the environment.

Settle offers that Okta adopted a “Business Systems” approach as a similar solution to their org chart, tossing aside the traditional staff meetings, opting for customer-facing activities, and stressing the importance of visibility throughout the organization.

Overall, Okta and Coupa’s willingness to focus on business strategy allowed them to focus on business-centric goals as well as keeping the lights on. This includes decisions and paths that opened the door to impactful and strategic decision making. 

Business Systems Best Practices for Growth and Optimization

“We are in an environment where time is precious.”  

Eric Tan, CIO of Coupa

Consequently, customers (both internal and external) don’t want solutions that will take a few months to fix – they want it now, if not yesterday. Since transformation is expected to survive in today’s market, businesses must focus on ways to achieve tangible goals quickly. These include saving time, cutting back on workforce costs, and increasing mobility and efficiency to do higher-level tasks.

Tan and Settle, therefore, recommend three best practices for growth with business systems in this ever-evolving tech environment (also emphasizing that if your company isn’t doing this, ops at other companies will):

1. Dominating Your Domain

To help business and truly demonstrate your value, you first have to “be good at what you do.” Tan urges business systems professionals to become SME’s of their domains and to focus on 5-10 critical applications. In addition, Tan implores Systems leaders to be proactive in understanding their impact on business as a whole. 

By focusing on tangible goals and ROI, you can bring real value with your actions and choices. Having a strong understanding of the culture (both departmental and business-wide) and the processes and connections within can create a more efficient environment, which is what you’re here to help produce.

2. Hands Off, Heads Up Business Strategy

Tan and Settle both agree that investing in your leadership skills will benefit both the organization and the individual. 

Tan describes a successful Systems leader as someone who can “take their hands off the keyboard.”

In doing so, you must also treat internal teams as customers. Just as external customers want transparency, you also have to aim for greater visibility within teams and look at their needs and perspectives. If you want to help business scale, you have to invest in what it takes to become an leader and determine demand – just as you would with an outside group – before harnessing the solution (or, in this case, the processes and systems) to deliver the desired result. You only can gain that trust to learn the desired experience of nuanced projects if internal teams are also treated like what they want matters.

In a like manner, leaders must take the time to adopt the “Player/Coach” mentality. Sometimes, business systems is teaching business the bigger picture, and other times, ops is teaching your team about the best conceived workflow for a department as you administer it.

3. Don’t Wait for a Crisis, Take Care of Your Stakeholders Now

Lastly, both Tan and Settle advise Systems leaders to spotlight stakeholder management. Settle says he stopped having traditional staff meetings at Okta and transitioned over to stand-ups, allowing for a more agile environment. With this strategy, like teams can better focus on systems initiatives and weigh the importance of interrelated workflows.

Partnerships with stakeholders require the same level of attention. It is through them that Systems’ value is demonstrated and it is your work that helps them run business. One cannot exist without the other, so the rapport and means to maintain it should be established front and center.

In the end, the CIOs aren’t advocating progress for the sake of progress. In contrast, they urge Systems leaders to consistently take a step back and assess the bigger picture. This business strategy should be strategically planned with stakeholders and C-suite to ensure efficiency and reap that tangible ROI leadership loves.

Watch the entire keynote, including Mark’s introduction on navigating business systems > 

Mary Hodges
About Mary Hodges

Mary previously worked in IT recruiting and is thrilled to bring her community building skills to the business systems community.