Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What are the CIO’s Top Priorities for Improving Business Maturity

The priority has to be set for lifting IT and overall business maturity from efficiency to effectiveness to agility.

Nowadays, information is the lifeblood of business, and technology is the big brain of the organization, there are so many things on the CIO’s agenda, IT is always in overload mode, and CIOs seem to be always at the hot seat. Therefore, in order to run IT more effectively and efficiently, how shall CIOs prioritize the projects, and what shall be put on the top of the CIO’s agenda?

IT maturity is proportional to overall organizational maturity: You can't determine the CIO priorities until you have fully understood the company, industry, the geographic location, and the appetite for risk. That said, as long as the business values IT as a strategic partner, the top priorities have to be on business focus whether that be promoting market share or product growth whilst optimizing the cost base and driving service quality. Generally speaking, there are five components which need to be put on the CIO’s priority list:
(1) Sustain IT operations - "keep the lights on." It is fundamental but critical. Make sure systems run according to plan, schedule, and performance standards. 
(2) Control costs to the greatest extent possible, including resource, equipment, and facility costs under the CIO's purview. 
(3) IT-Business alignment –“keep an eye on the horizon.” Look for and assess new technologies, determine viability and alignment with the organization's strategic direction. 
(4) Establish clear GRC standards for different aspects of the organization. 
(5) Running IT as the business innovation engine, take initiative to build unique business capability and drive business digitalization  

In most of IT organizations which get stuck at the low to mid level of maturity, cost control is the highest top priority: From “keeping the light on” perspective, the CIO has to control costs first. Runaway or unchecked costs will write you a ticket to a different opportunity. Every IT service must be benchmarked against competitors and other providers. If you cannot provide the service cheaper, you must develop plans to bring a provider into the mix to take over that service. There are few caveats - highly sensitive or patented solutions must be controlled in-house. From an investment perspective, advanced technologies are really good and more helpful to drive business demands. However, adopting and realizing the benefits requires investment, so most of the time, IT ended up to live with current technologies and standards rather than investing. Though from long-term perspective, with the emergent digital technology trend such as Cloud computing, IT can take advantage of CapEx to OpEx shift, and maximize IT investment to driving business growth, and move from cost control to cost optimization.

IT sustenance and business innovation are on every CIO's roadmap: Especially in well-established enterprises. Every IT project is the business project, for any business, there is a fifth component that must be sitting right by cost control and that is business innovation. IT must be managed in two ways; the utility side of the house where IT constantly drives costs lower; the second being business innovation which is the only way to lift IT from commoditized service to strategic partner; from the cost center to value creator; and from the reactive service provider to the proactive game changer. And it is doing so that IT can enable the business to increase market share, acquire new customers and increase innovation.

The fast-growing businesses set the top priority to build new capabilities in which IT is a key enabler: Fast growth companies will challenge the cost control efforts, with the drive to bring new capabilities to the business at a fast pace, this, in turn, can force some cost control measures to lower on the priority list. But once again, lack of cost oversight is a ticking time. Using agile IT methods and DevOps will help control runaway projects and keep those costs lower while bringing quick incremental value to the business through your business innovation efforts.

Prioritize to delight customers: At the age of people including both customers and employees, IT needs to set priority to digitalize every touch point of customer experience. IT has two sets of customers as well, the internal users who count on IT to equip them with the effective technology tools to improve productivity and work satisfaction; and the end customers who shop the business’s products or service and continue to compare their customer experience with competitors,' the user would need a delightful experience because if the user is bored or confused with the applications, the revenue or productivity will decrease, it will directly impact the business’s top line growth or bottom line efficiency.

There is no way to create a definitive prioritized list without more business context. These are all important, but you can easily imagine a scenario where the list is completely different given a company with specific business needs. So the really important thing is to understand the core business of your enterprise and the problem to solve, set IT priority to focus on long-term business strategy, uplift IT and overall business maturity from efficiency to effectiveness to agility.


I strongly feel the days of IT martyrdom are fast becoming antiquity! Having been a CIO for many years and having re-structured innumerable strategic planning processes to be certain IT is fully aligned with and in-step with the business goals of an organization, I believe we are standing at a precipice where it is time for innovative CIOs to share the wealth...It is time to go back to thinking of a federated model for the delivery of IT services and, even more importantly, game changing business "creating" levers.

A good example might be for CIOs to ask themselves if it would not be smarter to release technical resources into the business units where the needs are clear and the results are the goals...I know, it is difficult to let go of part of the empire, but this will allow the organization to embrace IT at the business level, and perhaps stop the age old conversation and taxonomy of IT vs. "the business".

Can you imagine what your world might be like if all of the parsing and manipulating of raw data that is fascinating everyone now were pushed to the marketing teams - allow the data scientists to be part and parcel of this team??? Now, that would be innovative and would perhaps allow IT delivery to truly surface as the enabler and business builder it has always been.


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