Sunday, May 4, 2014

IT Transformation Debate: When Should IT Lead, When Should IT Follow

If IT wants to contribute to the business at a higher maturity level, IT must "lead."

More often than not, technology is the catalyst for driving business change and digital transformation, however, in most of the companies, IT is still perceived as an order taker and support function, and most of IT organizations get stuck at the lower level of maturity for functional alignment or enabler. So IT is at a crossroad: Shall IT lead or follow? Should IT leadership rock the boat or just keep it afloat? And how to run digital IT at high speed and agility?

IT must lead in reaching high-level performance: IT is the only entity in the organization supposed to understand business entirely and oversight organizational processes horizontally, IT needs to be able to provide an innovative solution or supply a differentiated solution that contributes to both top line growth and the bottom line success of the organization. IT needs to become a business’s innovation engine, rather than just tools. IT must lead to reaching high-level performance.

IT needs to play a different role in the situation at hand: What should be focused on is the integration of IT into the business decisions and processes, IT involves co-creating business strategy. This will allow IT to shine in both roles –as enabler and driver. IT proactively works as an integral part of the business to capitalize on opportunity via leading the transformation, or IT delivers the best solution to the business problems which meet business’s requirement or tailor customer’s needs. IT should facilitate the business partners to the right solutions and help to implement them. Neither of these is wrong or right and choosing which is best should be dependent solely on the situation at hand. These roles will switch in all departments between leadership and support depending who takes the charge of a given project, and where the company's priorities lie.

IT maturity is based on overall business maturity: IT organizations can be either leading or supporting, depending on the nature and maturity of the organization and the traits of IT leadership. But if the organization does not take advantage of, or expect the IT department to innovate and lead or initiate change, then in the age of the digital era, IT is unlikely to be delivering the best value for its customers and shareholders. Further, if IT is leading, then IT must be structured to lead, otherwise, it’s haphazard if the opportunity will present itself.

Strategic IT leadership: Last but not the least, it's about IT leadership. CIOs need to be empowered with the opportunity to practice strategic muscle or innovation juggernaut, and they should be an active contributor to business strategy, innovation, lead or initiate business change and transformation. And companies these days should be empowering their CIOs and inviting them to participate at the strategic level of the conversation, and contribute to business strategy and innovation, in the same way, any other C-suite executive should.

It is obvious that both such questions and the answers shouldn’t be black and white, IT today has many roles to play, as a business enabler, innovation engine, digital driver; integrator, customer advocate, or governance champion., etc. The trend is that the advances of digital technologies provide an abundance of opportunities for IT to lead, and it’s the time for IT to break through the out-of-date perception as a cost center, and to create strategic advantage and competitive differentiation. 


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