Monday, December 25, 2017

Improving IT maturity via Practicing “More & Less”

CIOs should figure out their own set of “More & Less,” to focus on improving IT performance and maturity. 

As technology influences every aspect of the business and the CIO continues to become a critical and integral member of the C-suites, IT holds the key to make the company more competitive and successful in the long-term. In reality, business opportunities and risks coexist, disruptions, roadblocks, and pitfalls are around every corner. IT leaders must develop their own set of best and next practices for adapting to the business new normal.  Here are three pairs of “More & Less” practices to overcome barriers to improving IT performance and digital maturity.


More in-depth understanding and less controlling: Traditional IT has a reputation as a controller and traditional IT leaders often apply “Command & Control” (C&C) management style, and many IT organizations struggle to get alignment with the business. For IT to break the cycle, from the ‘weakest link,' or the change laggard to the digital conductor, it has to provide both business and technical insight into how it brings the success to the company as a whole, developing a digital business blueprint—a shared view of an organization that promotes deeper understanding of core processes, risks, and transformational opportunities, so digital leaders can approach change confidently. The problem of traditional management approach lies with the industrial mindset of scientific management where everything can be controlled. However, with “VUCA” digital new normal, the increasing pace of change, and continuous disruptions, IT leaders and managers need to have a contextual understanding of the interconnectivity of the business success factors underlying the surface and focus on dynamic planning, cross-functional communication and collaboration, and accountability. The problem of C&C is not even 'command and control,’ it's authoritarian behavior and poor judgment. IT-business mutual understanding becomes so important to close the gap and reach the high level of digital maturity. Empathize with the user and understand what their frustration is with the technology. IT needs to train people to listen closely to what the user is saying. Usually, the users’ frustration is due to the fact that most people don’t understand IT and feel helpless because they are so dependent on it. The other issue with overly controlling is that it’s process driven, not begin with 'the end in mind.' Because you can control people's behavior, but not their mind. Digital leaders advocate self-management, steer a clear direction of what’s expected, but encourage people to figure out “HOW” to get there with their choices. The goal is to improve collaboration, transparency, innovation, employees and customers satisfaction.

More flexibility & balance, less bureaucracy: With increasing rate of changes and fast growing information, the organization needs to be adapted in a digital way that it can respond effectively to the dynamic changes and the variety in the environment. In order to survive and thrive amid constant change, companies must reclaim the right balance of standardization and flexibility, and build strategic responsiveness into their business foundations. One of the biggest obstacles to stifle digital flow is bureaucracy which is criticized by its inflexibility, inefficiency, silo, stagnation, unresponsiveness, or lack of creativity, etc. To diagnose the problem from the mindset level, bureaucratic thinking is about fear of failure, fear of getting out of old habits or fear to lose the status quo. It generates negative energy which stops organizations from moving forward. To expedites changes and improve performance, IT has to be flexible and strike the right balance of “old experience,” and ”new way to do things,” develop the next practices, not just get stuck at the best practices, some of which have outdated at the digital age. When the need for a significant digital shift is identified, IT often plays a crucial role in “gluing” all important hard elements and soft factors of the business to build differentiated digital capabilities such as innovation. Innovation is about commercializing the novel ideas or figuring out better ways to do things, and flexibility is about having alternative ways to either walk around the obstacles or take the different approach. In fact, flexibility and innovation go hand-in-hand to achieve better business results.


More real problem-solving, less symptom fixing: Traditional IT organizations are overloaded and understaffed, often spend a lot of time on band-aid symptom fixing. Sometimes, events and patterns are observed on the surface, and then the action is taken to fix the symptom, but that is too early. After observing events and patterns, there are the underlying structures, the mechanisms, that cause the problem. The wrong cause of the problem will perhaps grow new or larger problems and create the disconnect between IT and the business. Some CIOs are extremely risk averse and at the end of the day, they can frustrate their internal staff and business functional managers by not delivering much in value-based solutions. The real problem-solving is about seeing a problem and actually discovering a real solution to that problem. IT should turn on the ‘debugging mindset’ to do a root cause analysis. Discover what is at the heart of the problem. IT needs to help the customer focus on the root cause and get away from a preconceived solution if you believe that the proposed solution is not what is best for the company or the customer. IT is neither an order taker nor a controller only, IT needs to become a business solutionary. CIOs need to take business problems, find solutions for them, increase value propositions, simplify operations and be better partners with the rest of the organizations.

Old IT thinking or outdated practices cannot move fast enough in the era of the digitalization. CIOs should figure out their own set of “More & Less,” to focus on improving IT performance and maturity. Digital CIOs today need to have both business acumen and technological understanding of becoming the insightful business leader and effective IT manager, in order to lead effectively and digitize IT effortlessly.


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