Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Faster, Better and Cheaper - Can Digital IT Achieve All

IT needs to be running in a more proactive digital mode, rather than in a reactive industrial mode.

Many traditional IT organizations still run in a reactive, "keeping the light on" mode, in pursuit of efficiency (doing more with less), but putting less effort on achieving agility (running with faster speed to adapt to the changes) and maturity (doing things better to delight customers, not just keeping IT functioning). However, with the increasing speed of changes, IT has to be designed for change, but how? Can IT shift from a monolithic industrial mode to a nimble, adaptive and resilient style? Faster, better, cheaper, can IT achieve them all?

It's about people, process, and technology, well aligned with business strategy. When IT is viewed as expensive, it's often because there is a lack of a clear understanding of the corresponding business value provided by IT. Aligning to business goals provides the context to invest technology dollars wisely. What really comes out is the need for the senior IT team to get close to the business and create the relationships that allow the proper conversations to happen. Focusing on the people, processes, and hearts & minds is not always easy for a technical team to do, but a real must in today's ever-evolving IT world. At traditional IT organizations, if you choose "cheap" and also choose "good," then expect "slow." Alternatively, if you choose "fast" to accompany "cheap," then expect poor quality. Cheap, fast and good - it seems you can have only two choices at a time. However, now with the emergent digital technologies such as Cloud, Mobile, Social, Analytics and IT consumerization trends, IT has better opportunity to run faster with digital speed; focus on doing more with innovation and achieve high quality result; and shifting from CapEx to OpEx does not always necessarily mean cheaper, but for enabling cash flow.

IT needs to be running in a more proactive digital mode, rather than in a reactive industrial mode. At industrial silo mode, IT plays as a controller, IT staff often takes heroic measures routinely to keep "their" IT systems working well for the business and their colleagues. The risk is that the IT team is overloaded and the business' expectations are raised to an unsustainable level as the workload increases. It is imperative that the IT leadership does not rely on this heroism of their team as it places the business at a very real peril when things change for the worse. IT leaders must find ways and means to decrease the work pressure and obtain permanent or temporary resource relief. To put another way, IT leaders must transform their organizations to be a business enabler, embrace the latest digital technology trends, also take proactive steps not only mitigating risks but performing risk intelligence.

IT leadership typically needs to come alongside business leadership with strategic decisions and remind them of the fundamental principle of business. Engage Board and executive team in strategic dialogs. Focus on communication about IT value add. Move towards a bimodal model: cutting cost on the legacy side and investing in 'digital.' Benchmark IT spend versus competition. Highlight Operational Risks: shaky foundations in people, processes, technologies, tools, etc. and their related risks, are often ignored until the disaster strikes. In addition to the example of the extended outage, you may have a crisis caused by risks, a rapid change for the scale of the business that cannot be properly supported by the IT capabilities of the company, turnover of key personnel, or obsolescence of key technologies. Often the business leadership views the claims for more investment is a self-servicing request. External and respected consultants or CXOs/Board members that have seen other businesses suffer from other investment or annual spending can provide a more objective measure. Benchmarks are useful if they are considered legitimate by the business leaders and are most effective when the entire business, the functions or the processes are benchmarked too.

Organizations rely more and more on information and technology; people tend to have a high expectation of digital flow, the IT department has more and more challenges to overcome for running at digital speed. IT leaders have to act beyond a technology manager, play multi-faceted roles: being a change agent to drive the changes, being an innovator to discover the new way to do things; being a customer champion to delight both internal and end customers; being a talent master to shape a high-performing IT team and being a governance champion to manage both risks and opportunities accordingly.


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