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Walking the tightrope – building an IT service for the future

This article was originally published on Technology.Info.
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As CIO, your primary responsibility is to “keep the lights on”, to ensure that critical business systems remain running, no matter what. But your secondary responsibility is to use technology to transform business processes to increase efficiency and profitability.

However these two key demands are generally constrained by the “5 year plan”, a financial framework that regulates exactly how much money will be invested in IT, and what it will buy. A three-year plan may be more realistic for planning, but there is often insufficient latitude for the CIO to take advantage of new developments. The iPad, now a staple part of the mobile enterprise did not even exist five years ago, so could never have featured in a long-term development plan.

Shadow IT - the enemy within

The traditional five-year plan also cannot account for internal pressures from shadow IT. Many businesses were caught almost completely unaware by the BYOD revolution for instance – it certainly never featured in any long-term planning. This is then compounded by other consumer-led developments like Cloud file storage or smartphone apps that are neither specified or supported by IT, but which allow employees to become more agile and efficient.
Obviously the CIO needs to maintain corporate IT governance standards, but he or she also needs to ensure that the business is using IT to grow and succeed.

Resource shortages require cultural changes

To stay on top of developments means having a suitably skilled team on hand for implementation. According to Gartner estimates however, just 19% of businesses have the right blend of skills and experience (along with headcount) required to deliver fast-track, agile projects.
The obvious solution is to augment the existing team, or outsource certain projects to a “speedboat” partner who can deliver. Gartner research suggests that outsourcing projects alone may not be sufficient to keep up with technological change; instead they suggest the creation of a two-tier team, one tasked with “keeping the lights on”, mission-critical operations, the other bound by a “good enough” approach to developing new solutions and operations. This secondary team will then be exempted from some of the operational “rules”, allowing them to respond and resolve issues more quickly.
These changes to the IT team may need further adaptation to continue to meet changing demands and priorities.
Choosing to work with an agile service provider or developer will help begin the cultural shift required, but this will also need to be formalised within the internal IT structures for maximum benefit. Dismantling traditional unit siloes – infrastructure, development, service delivery – and replacing them with cross-functional teams DevOps style will also help to create the required flexibility.
Cultural change in this way is not simply about Agile development projects, but creating a team better shaped for dealing with future challenges.

Other potential improvements to building an IT service

Cultural change extends beyond the IT business unit, becoming part of the very DNA of an organisation. Here are some other goals that businesses need to work towards if they are to meet the challenges of the future:

  • Review governance – The CIO is almost certainly bound by a number of reporting structures and metrics which are no longer relevant or of interest to the board. Governance structures probably need to be relaxed (within reason) to support the work of a DevOps team and the “good enough” approach to development.
  • Review procurement – Historical procurement processes delay new IT projects and developments that have the potential to deliver organisational transformation. Working with the CFO, CIOs need to agree and implement new procurement processes that allow them to get the skills and resources they need in a timely fashion. Government advances in SME procurement could provide a template for private sector organisations who lag in this discipline.
  • Review talent acquisition – Agile IT delivery requires a similarly flexible workforce made up of employees who can adjust to changing frameworks implemented by the CIO. Internal employees can (and should) be supplemented by startups and smaller companies who use specialist knowledge and experience to deliver much-needed innovations quickly on a project-by-project basis.
  • Review agility – Experimentation with workflows and governance could deliver surprising results, so the CIO should not be afraid to implement temporary changes. Supporting these new workflows with tools like Kanban will help better manage processes and allocate resources. Adopting new approaches, such as crowdsourcing, will also help to deliver innovations that solve old problems with new technologies and techniques.
  • Review budgets – 5 year planning cycles are too long to keep up with technology changes. Instead the CIO needs to work with the CFO to implement 6 monthly budget and planning cycles to ensure that technology investments are providing best value in terms of cost and business benefit. Making a shift from CAPEX to OPEX will also help combat issues of depreciation or redundancy.
  • Review failures – As well as celebrating success, the CIO needs to be open to sharing and embracing failures in order for the IT business unit (and the rest of the business) to learn from them. Ignoring failure opens the way for repeated mistakes in future.

Cultural and operational change is not easy to affect, particularly for businesses who have well-established routines. However speed of business continues to increase, as do the demands on the CIO. If business challenges and goals are to be met, organisational change will not be optional.
Dootrix would love to hear your thoughts on the intersection of Culture and Technology.

Tim Edwards is founder of Supercharged Commerce