Thursday, March 13, 2014

How Should CIO respond to endless internal customer demand for IT solutions?

 It is both the art and science to know when to say YES, and when to say NO to the customers. 

Modern IT needs to both take care of internal customers by meeting their needs, and to delight end customer by optimizing digital touch points; it has to both map out the strategic projects, but also to keep the light on. How should CIOs prioritize the limited time and resources to ascend IT maturity, and how should CIOs respond to endless internal customer demand for IT solutions? Most of IT organizations fall into the following three types of  mentality:

  • Butler (or Victim): IT is obligated to support the business counterparts, so, even with 20 other projects, IT leaders may just take on one more unfunded project. with the mantra to ‘do more with less’; well, even it’s a ‘humble’ attitude, but that approach is sometimes a lose-lose situation as you end up committing to projects that you cannot successfully deliver without additional budget, so now you bolster a reputation in the company that "IT can't deliver”; or, most of IT projects are fixing the symptom, but not cure the root cause, IT may still not get respect from business, with the risk to lose accountability, to run IT as a reactive cost center; not a proactive value creator. Or sometimes the environment is such that there is no governance around who initiates and implements technology leading to the rationale, IT leaders say 'Yes' to everything not through the heart to heart agreement, but due to the fears of uncertainties: "If I say no or not now, or I don't have the resources, then the SVP will take his/her discretionary budget and go find a contractor to replace the system -- without my involvement. So I better say yes so that the situation doesn't spawn more 'shadow IT' projects I have no control over." 
  • Command-and-control: In some well-established organizations, IT is the controller with a bit ‘arrogant' attitude, without doing enough to engage business in collecting requirement and setting priority. Such management style would cause the warmth of the firefighter feeling, the desire to dominate, running IT as technical challenges, not business solutions, and the vanity of entitled gratuities. The improvement is to set solid IT governance discipline and practices: A good place to start is by trying to get all parts of the business on the same process for proposing, justifying and prioritizing projects - including IT. If people see IT as part of the same process, getting some projects now, having to defer some, just like them, that goes a long way gaining credibility when it comes to arguing that the surprise new thing will impact the company’s agreed priorities, and not just mean longer hours for the overworked and ever-whining IT staff. 
  • Partnership: The intimate Business-IT partnership is the ultimate status for IT to deliver better fit, right-on and cost-effective solutions. Even you cannot fulfill all business’s demands, but you deliver what you promise, and you do what is best fit for business’s strategy and goals. And you are humble enough to listen to customers; but confident enough to say 'NO,' with the fair reasons. Start to build personal capital with the executive peers so that when you go to them and say you would love to deliver this new initiative, and want to work with them to agree how it will be prioritized and funded, they will not immediately assume that you are falling all the way back to "victim" or "whining" modes. 

IT leaders can also become the champion for improved governance at the C-level: The better scenario is that you should always be working with the C-suite closely to drive governance and mature prioritization processes that gain the oversight of strategies and resources. Yes, it takes time, especially in organizations with very dysfunctional behaviors in this area, but it is worth the effort. Without a challenging and well-governed environment, personalities can overpower the agenda and subsume what is organizationally necessary to what is personally desired.

Yes, it is both the art and science to know when to say "YES," and when to say "NO" to your internal customers, as the old adage may still be true, "you have not because you ask not." Sometimes IT staff and leaders become so conditioned to a presumed ‘order-taker’ role that they stop asking or don't ask because of past failure to get what they asked fulfilled, and also because of the culture being driven by the top leadership team. But still, IT has to take more proactive ‘order co-maker’ role, to work closely and strategically with the business for achieving the common business goals and delivering the high-performance business result.


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