Faster Delivery = Happy Users
Automated Process = Fewer Errors
Standards = Cost Reduction
Order Visibility = Confidence
Linking Systems = Efficiency
Making a Better Business
Once upon a time, IT was worlds apart from the business. Today, the two are inseparable.
The IT leader no longer fulfils their role by responding to requirements and reacting to problems. Instead, they look at the state of the business to determine how to bring more value from a technology perspective. In effect, the modern IT executive spends each day answering the question, “How can I make the business better?”
This isn’t always a technology question. Digital technology is redefining every organization’s ability to grow, differentiate and scale. But without the appropriate business processes in place, these transformation initiatives fall flat. It’s up to IT leaders to ensure the business is agile enough to move forward to the ideal future state.
At our Innovation Executive Forum (IEF) lunch in Temecula, California we talked with IT executives from around Southern California about their thoughts on driving the business forward. Read on for some of their key thoughts and insights.
Selling IT Transformation
An IT department is only as transformative as the business it serves.
While IT may be invested in moving things forward, it takes the whole organization to make a meaningful change. For the IT leader, selling the vision of a digital transformation is just as important as managing technical projects and processes.
Sometimes the biggest challenge is convincing the business that IT is an asset to begin with. For one IEF member, the transition from a technology-forward Silicon Valley company to a more traditional residential construction business was a stark adjustment.
“It’s difficult to come to a brick-and-mortar company and make it known that IT is keeping the company well-oiled,” he explained. “They’re in a mindset of a lot of paper-and-pen.”
For this member, changing the low-tech formula that yielded $400 million in business was a tough sell. The business viewed technology with suspicion. Nonetheless, the member persisted in evangelizing the potential of IT to move the business even further.
“If this is what we’re doing with paper-and-pen, imagine what we could do with technology.”
In other cases, the will to change may be there, but years or decades of aging infrastructure stand in the way. Another guest described joining an organization with high IT maturity, after a career made in start-ups. Here, legacy tools and systems had built up over time. When it came time to make a change, the cost and complexity of replacing them posed a challenge.
“It’s kind of like your garage when you’re married with two kids. Stuff just gets put in there because you’re too busy.”
Our guests agreed, the role of the IT leader is to help make the transition to a twenty-first-century model successful. One member described the process as changing the perspective from “this is how we’ve always done it” to “this is what agility looks like.”
Leading that change is often a make-or-break proposition. No matter the stage of their organization’s growth, IT leaders are facing greater pressure to add tangible value. One IEF member summed up the challenge:
“If I don’t advance and support the business, my replacement will.”
Reclaiming the Agenda
When it comes to adopting technology, it often falls to IT to protect the business from itself. The financial, security and legal implications of a technology project gone wrong mean the IT leader has a fine line to walk between “blocker” and “innovator.”
But with the business taking the driver’s seat for more technology initiatives, several on our guests saw the business-IT dynamic shifting. “The business is moving ahead, and we’re being invited” one attendee explained.
“There’s no shadow anymore – it’s right in front of us.”
For another member, the lack of a control framework created all kinds of challenges, from security risks to regulatory compliance. “Now the business is feeling some of IT’s pain, coming back to us with their tail between their legs.”
The guests agreed that introducing the concept of IT governance is all-important. “It’s huge,” said one member. Establishing governance requires a conversation among all parties about the organization’s needs and objectives. What follows is a discussion on how those needs fit onto the IT priority list.
“In any IT organization, you’re getting hammered from all different business functions for features, applications, et cetera,” explained one attendee. “Getting all that into a single funnel…I can plan for that. If I know I’m going to be over budget on something, I have the opportunity to raise my hand before we get started.”
On the other hand, it’s critical for the IT leader to avoid being an impediment to the business. For one member, this meant building a foundation to get ahead of the business and deliver what they expect. “It’s about saying, look at all this intelligence we’ve gathered in terms of AI, big data – how can we use this?” Until the IT team reaches this point, there’s more work to do. As another attendee put it:
“We’re still paving the runway so the planes can take off.”
Like many IT leaders today, our guests faced a growing challenge in matching bright young technical talent with more established, traditional work cultures.
In response, employers are rethinking the work culture itself. Guests noted many companies in nearby San Diego offer perks like catered lunches, beer fridges and gaming tables. “If you think about it, we spend a lot of our time at work – why not enjoy it?” asked one member. “Instead of just being here for a paycheck, you’re part of a community.”
Physical presence at work is also becoming outmoded. In the past, organizations coupled compensation with hours spent working at a desk. Technology has made remote work possible to such an extent that it has enabled what one member termed “workforce-as-a-service.” Our host asked the attendees why organizations don’t treat employee contributions the way they treat services like cloud storage?
“If an organization manages by objectives, what’s the difference?” replied one member. “I don’t pay you for your time in an office, I pay you for your output.”
Our guests saw another huge challenge in finding people with the right skills and knowledge to lead the next generation of IT. “Incredibly smart people want to go to companies like Space X. I’ve got a sales and marketing company,” lamented one IEF member. Another observed that the lure of lucrative careers on social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram prevented many talented young people from entering the traditional workforce.
One attendee described losing a talented technical resource to a major video game studio. A conversation about improving his compensation and benefits went nowhere.
“He said, ‘nope, I got my dream job.’ You can’t compete with that.”
The lesson: to stay ahead in the talent market, inspiring team members with creative, interesting work is critical. If asked to spend excess time “keeping the lights on,” top talent will move on.
To sum up our IEF event in Southern California, here are some concluding thoughts from our discussion:
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