Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Race for IT Relevance

The race for IT relevance is still on, be alert to identify blind spots, be flexible to adjust the planning, be open to listening to the different points of views and be determined when you have to make tough choices.

Due to the changing nature of technology, the saying about the demise of the internal IT has been around for years. In reality, the majority of IT organizations get stuck in the lower level of maturity, slow to change. CIOs are in the hot seat to run the race for IT relevance, with the pressure to transform IT from a cost center and a commodity service provider to a value created business growth engine. But, how?

IT is neither an order taker nor a controller only, IT needs to become a business solutionary: IT needs to be influential enough to impact and provide customers with the right solution, in a right manner, and at a right cost. It doesn’t mean IT should say YES to all customers’ requests or say NO to maintain a status quo. It’s ultimately important for IT to discuss "what's possible" not just "what do you want." This requires a certain depth of understanding of the business. However, in many organizations, IT is a cost center, not a business unit. Often, business departments prefer a solution that meets their needs; even further, they don't want solutions that level the playing field and equalize them with their peers, they want something that elevates them. But IT often strives to provide a technology platform that serves all business units for the sake of reduced cost. It's difficult to reconcile these two needs without a great deal of trust and communication. As IT leaders, you have to ask yourself then whether you are offering something in your dialogue that really helps business partners see how they can differentiate themselves or their business practices. IT can provide valuable insights and tools, and should have the vision to do so. Especially the "what is possible" part, don't just deliver what the business asks for, but be able to provide the "best solution" for the business' requirement, and help the entire business build the long-term advantage.

IT has to work towards building better credibility and influence and gain respect from business peers: The CIO must be a partner in every aspect of the business. The supporting IT budgets must reflect business priorities and urgency. From both top-down to bottom up, in order to enable the constructive communication, there are leverage points, such as communication of the best tactical actions in support of the business strategy; the sacrifice of a few (products, services, tools, teams) for the advance of the whole; the balance of quick win and long-term benefit, in the face of sometimes wildly variable priorities. Every IT initiative is to help in solving business problems. IT should turn on the ‘debugging mindset’ to do a root cause analysis. Discover what is at the heart of the problem. In many cases, the customer does not really understand the real cause. Once they understand the core problem, then they are able to let go of what they thought would be the best and only answer. 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. Offer added value and feature insights based on system understanding, that the business might not even have thought of. And IT can earn a reputation and build better credibility, and gain respect from business peers via unique insight and solid problem-solving capability.

Avoid the pitfalls at the journey of digital transformation: It is no surprise that there are both visible barriers and hidden pitfalls on the way:
(1) IT is an afterthought: if the business does not invite the IT leaders to provide input or co-create strategy, IT is developing a different solution than the other department had in mind. Business and IT both should take responsibility if IT is delivering the wrong solution. They often need to shift from answer-driven approach (what is the answer, HOW to fix it -often the symptom), to problem-centric scenario (What is the real problem (root cause), why does it happen.) IT and business should always be on the same page: First, ask managers and leaders about the vision and business problems they are trying to solve, there needs to be a comprehensive audit of the business, to ferret out the problem areas. Once this is done, you can then begin to determine what modifications need to take place, whether it is adding new products or services, building the culture of innovation, or shaping the change capability.

(2) Communication is not clear between the participants: Typically, one starts with communication and a process that allows people to discover that both sides of the business want to achieve the best results. The cause of most of the conflict is a lack of trust, in both directions. Trust is earned by business and IT working as a whole, head to head and hand in hand.

(3) Non-IT personnel doesn't understand technology thoroughly: Business needs to have empathy and complexity mindset to understand IT better. The issue is not whether IT matters as it clearly does. The issue is whether most business leaders understand how IT matters. Many organizations are not foresightful to empower their IT leaders or lack of in-depth understanding of IT responsibility, technology complexity, the innovative potential and the paradox of IT management.

The race for IT relevance is still on, be alert to identify blind spots, be flexible to adjust the planning, be open to listening to the different points of views and be determined when you have to make tough choices and take calculated risks. With the increasing speed of change in the Digital Era, IT matters more, not as a commodity service provider, but as a competitive advantage.


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