By Phil Wales, Chief Executive Officer, eBusiness Strategies LLC Today’s uncertain and rapidly shifting corporate environment challenges oil and gas companies to operate as lean, and yet effectively, as possible. Accomplishing this requires an alignment of industry stakeholders, business operations/processes, technology support and the workplace into an integrated framework. Essentially, an integrated framework comes from optimizing the business requirements so that all support components -- from streamlined business processes to enabled technology -- work together with minimum friction, allowing stakeholders to best do their job. Move Beyond Comfort Zone Start by focusing on business strategy because, without exception, any business group servicing the broader corporation must understand the company’s strategic goals and mission. This means moving beyond the traditional comfort zone of tactical service execution and developing an understanding of the strategic value those services offer the corporation as a whole. That entails spending time with the various constituents and stakeholders to understand what they really need. Not a one-time interchange, this requires aligning with the business units supported to make building and maintaining relationships a priority. The better understanding that managers gain about what each unit does and why, the better those services can be aligned to support them. Engage And Coordinate An easily overlooked point is that management literally needs to engage with every employee who expresses a problem. Additionally, at the human resources (HR), IT or procurement levels, effective communications are important to help ensure that none of the departments “bump” into each other. In an actual example, a company needed desks with computers and network connections for new skilled workers (engineers), which corporate real estate (CRE) and HR effectively handled by the two-week deadline. However, IT took six weeks to provide the required technology to allow them to be productive. The dilemma was clear: why have one part ready in two weeks if the other took six? A critical aspect of engaging stakeholders involves understanding how they will define success and thus how the manager will be measured in supporting their mission. This focus on metrics will quickly illustrate what management considers most important for stakeholders, and thus ultimately for the organization. Integral Change Management Thread The next step focuses on understanding the value-added and also drives home the overriding importance of change management. First, tactical services will always need to be provided just to “keep the ship afloat.” However, too many organizations continue to provide low value or even negative value services “just because that is what we have always done.” By genuinely understanding stakeholder requirements, it becomes noticeably easier to define the optimal practice for each operational service offered. The goal is to formally document and agree to processes that guide the services delivered. This step results in a normalized and standardized service delivery model that will both optimize service delivery and, in most cases, actually reduce costs. Yet, remember change management’s critical role. Too many oil and gas companies put all the supposedly necessary parts in place, buttressed by technology support, but do not tell employees what is coming. The result is that the change initiative will fail because human nature resists change and this resistance is only broken down by ingraining the operational how-to and then socializing it. In other words, employees must understand why the “change is good” to buy into and support it, not just being ordered to. Technology Is Enabler, Not Solution Technology is the third focus area. Surprisingly, to many executives (more than 50% of the time by general estimates), technology is strictly an enabler, not the business solution, and is not tied to a specific outcome, vendor or technology. It can just as easily make things worse as it can make things better. Between these two extremes, the difference is knowing what is actually needed to automate and then forcing the technology to deliver on that need. Actually, implementing a supporting technology is relatively easy if needs are fully understood, and there is a well-defined game plan for delivering business benefits. In actual practice, the most common failure in this scenario is to disconnect the business from the solution. Far too often, people abdicate their business position by accepting a technical solution under the false assumption that “It must be what I need since others have bought it.” Assure Long-Term Success Managers must remember that it is their business, and they must live with results of a technology deployment long after the vendor has gone. Therefore, the goal is to enable systematic organizational and business processes with technology, not adapt to arcane practices a vendor has built into its product. In today’s corporate environment, corporate stakeholders, specific business operations, and processes must be aligned with the supporting technology into an integrated framework. Driving from the overarching strategy down to the tactical operations and technical tools is the best way to assure this alignment is successful. Editor’s Note: Phil Wales is chief executive officer of Houston-based eBusiness Strategies LLC.