Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Three IT Mentalities Enlarging Digital Gaps

Business Fails IT, just like IT Fails Business.


Generally speaking, the job of a CIO has three parts: The first part is IT leadership. The task is to identify and recommend  the latest technology trends that provide strategic value for businesses. This is probably the most forward-looking part to improve IT maturity. The second part is their representation on the executive staff, the job is to respond to requests from other executives for solutions to business problems and provide input into strategic planning. The third part is the management of their organization. The task is to improve operations to reduce the burden on the company while trying to stay current with ever-changing technologies. That includes reducing costs, improving systems, streamlining processes and providing continually expanding services. However, in reality, with resources restriction or culture inertia, very few CIOs can do all of them extremely well. Here are three IT mentalities:

1.    Keep the Light On: Don’t fix what isn't Broken

  • Maintaining “Status Quo” mentality: Most of IT organization would prefer to stay within their comfort zone, rely on their current vendors and wait for change, rather than proactively inviting change. rarely consider how innovations would support the business, rather they are concerned with personal agenda and maintaining the status quo. With these variables in mind, CIOs may not seek outside of their current tool set or established relationships. If that were the situation, then isn't a 'don't fix what isn't broken' perspective an inherent roadblock? 
  • Businesses fail IT, just like IT fails businesses: Fair to say, you shouldn’t just blame on IT, there are living examples in organizations where innovation from IT was not embraced by the business, relegating IT to a largely operational support role. and IT continues to stay at comfort zone to react as supporting function, many CIOs are faced with conflicting goals on a regular basis. The budgets are never large enough and there are never enough resources for all of the projects, thus, they can’t prioritize and assign limited resource wisely; or work collaboratively to plan, manage, govern and measure projects. In addition, if no one really cares about IT or business fails IT for certain way, then IT may just lose the drive to improve performance. 
  • An effective CIO should lead via right metrics that substantiate the ROI. If something is not broken, should you invest in making it better, the business case would be: Is it going to help the business (in terms of revenue, internal or external customer satisfaction, etc..) for short term & long term? And shall you justify the resources and cost to enhance it? 
If “keeping the light on” is the “normal” IT mentality, then, businesses need keep alarmed, How do you improve performance, reduce costs, optimize operations and basically evolve as a business if  IT adopts a "don't fix what isn't broken" approach, you will be left in the dust, and companies will stagnate whilst others push forward.  

2. Run -Fixing the Symptom through Band-Aid Approach

This second mentality is more active, with “running” attitude; however, it’s still more about short term focus, fix the symptom via band-aid approach, instead of driving long-term transformation. 

  • Business culture does play a role in IT attitude on long term vs. short term perspective, or reactive vs. proactive mode: What does the business want from IT and how is IT positioned to deliver it? Many times, hunting for root cause takes a holistic approach and need breakdown silo processes. If the CIO doesn’t have a seat at big table to create strategy or functional executives hold silo thinking; or if leadership teams do not collaborate as a whole, but act as the sum of pieces, unhealthily compete with each other internally about budgeting, resources, credit, and blames, then, the CIO as "influential" role may turn to be second class, that stifles innovation, IT perhaps just takes “shortcut” with band-aid solution, instead of having transformational mindsets, CIOs could be runners, but not change agents. 
  • CIOs face various challenges: If CIOs are not able to make any dent within executive board, then IT is just acting in the reactive mode. Their proactive solutions will not get enough traction in most cases. Some CIOs are extremely risk averse and at the end of the day, they can frustrate their internal staff and business process owners by not delivering much in value-based solutions. Such “fixing symptom” mentality is still complacent, short-sighted and too “ordinary.” The key point is: CIOs should have know-how attitude about business, they able to demonstrate the full reasoning behind the proposal, in order to shift to proactive mode smoothly; and that needs a strong team, a full understanding of the business and how IT underpins all elements of it.

3. Transform -Diagnose the Root Cause with a Long Term Perspective

At such high mature level, IT does show more character, creativity and “craziness” to think differently, performs as the business growth engine, and CIOs play as change agents.

  • It takes insight and strategy to think long term: Proactive IT approach is required to achieve business value and innovation.  CIOs have to know and understand the business, that knowledge will make you a valuable asset to the company. With that knowledge, CIOs can drive innovation and strategy, not just implement it. 
  • It takes courage to make changes proactively: Specifically, when the technology presents a paradigm shift in the way in which things have been done for over decades. One can imagine making a case for change would take courage and commitment, it would mean putting one's neck on the line, wouldn't it? 
  • It takes methodology and governance disciplines to drive changes. It would require members of both the technology & business teams to work collaboratively to set up business goals and effectively & efficiently standardize processes of due diligence, and a clear and constant initiative to improve and grow businesses, IT will spend the high percentage of time & resource to initiate value-driven projects. For example: exploring Cloud solutions, piloting new technologies or processes, application modernization projects, scaling up the integrated digital platform, improving business’s analytical capabilities, prioritizing the projects with potential to have slightly longer term impacts on the business. 
Therefore, there are different styles of mentality and methodology to run IT today, actions depend on maturity, competition and customer expectations, but overall, proactive mode is an optimal mentality for long run, forward-looking organizations need to empower their CIOs, also support their IT with collaborative attitude, in order to build up high performance, high mature businesses.

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