Building the Business – IT Relationship at Itemize

Written by Hitesh Chitalia, VP of Technology

Introduction

If you are working in product development, you are familiar with the internal tug-of-war to get products and features into the hands of your customers.  At Itemize, we have worked hard to alleviate those challenges by streamlining our internal processes and enhancing communication between our technology, product, and sales teams.   Leveraging “just enough” Agile methodology to meet our needs, focusing on solutions rather than problems, and letting the data speak and inform our decision making, have strengthened the business-technology relationship at Itemize.  

Agile – just enough

The Agile framework is a key tool used at Itemize to align our business and development goals.  We use “just enough” Agile for our product and engineering efforts. Itemize also uses Aha integrated with Jira to provide both a product view and an engineering view of our roadmap, along with a common terminology for features and releases.  Release planning, sprint planning, and daily standups reduce miscommunication. Introducing release schedules based on two week sprint cycles enables us to improve our efficiency for delivering features on time in a predictable manner. We use AWS for our infrastructure, so we naturally use CodePipeline, CodeBuild, and CodeDeploy.   With CodePipeline, we pause the deployment to allow the Product Owner to confirm the deployment. The Product Owner is fully involved in releases. While a true Agilist might grimace at our implementation, we have vastly improved our process and communications over the past year. Using “just enough” Agile allows the Itemize team to work together in lock-step to deliver on our goals without being over-burdened with process.

Solutions, not problems

The demands of an evolving business can be challenging.  Hurdles can appear as “problems.” We in technology must be cognizant of presenting the product team with solutions and not problems. This change in perspective from “cannot be done” to rising up to meet the challenge strengthens the business-technology bridge.  It can also present opportunities not seen previously. A great example of this is our new 98% offering. The sales team saw a demand from customers for a more complete solution. However, we already had a full plate of goals needing to be met for other clients. In lieu of “delaying” the work so we could complete the tasks in-flight, the Itemize tech team went to the white board and came up with solutions that met both objectives with a near-term adjustment to the release schedule.  We presented the options and adjustments needed to the sales and product teams.  Bringing multiple options to the table allowed all of us to have a positive interaction and agreement on the way forward.   As a result, we now have a new product offering meeting our customer demand, while also addressing the feature requests for existing clients.  Having a small staff helps us to react quickly, and armed with solutions, just enough process, and good communication, the Itemize tech team is able to meet the demands of our evolving business.

Questions, Data and Benchmarks

In order to present solutions and appropriately adjust priorities, we need data.  We need to understand how the Itemize system is performing and where it can be improved.  We have a wealth of data processing information, such as throughput and extraction accuracy, that feeds into our operational reports.  The Itemize Operations team does a fantastic job of analyzing the data, and measuring our results against our own benchmarks. They are then able to ask questions about the data observed, identify issues that need to be addressed, and create tasks that the tech team can quickly tackle.  A simple example occurred a few months ago where the Operations team, while analyzing an audit, discovered that UK National Rail receipts had an unusual date format.  These receipts presented other complexities as well, but addressing the date format provided a quick improvement in date extraction accuracy. Through daily operations reports, the Operations team uses data to help navigate prioritization and identify changes that need to be made to the Itemize platform in order to provide the best results for our customers.

Summary

Having a seat at the table empowers IT to improve communications with product development and empowers the company to make data-driven business decisions.  Over the past year, the Itemize technology team has taken several steps to build, strengthen, and maintain the “business-IT” bridge. Using the Agile framework, we have a common roadmap meeting business goals and have used operational data to prioritize those goals. The results are clear.  We have improved our ability to respond to changes in the marketplace, provided new offerings faster, and formed a stronger team at Itemize.