Most businesses are becoming increasingly dependent on IT, not just for daily operations, but as the enabler of digital transformation in a world that is being disrupted every day with new approaches to enacting business. The inherent problem within most businesses is the tension that is ever present between IT Operations and the need for innovation and change. Over the past thirty years, with the exception of the dot com blip, IT departments have been tasked with ensuring the availability of key systems, updating things where necessary and responding with resources, often in large scale projects, aimed at transforming an aspect of a business.
As users work longer hours from more locations, the pressure on IT has grown, with demand for services to be available anywhere, anytime. Technology has become more complex and in parallel with the demand for extended service support, IT has to make time for learning the new technology. This problem is exacerbated by more entrants into the technology market place, creating a landscape where IT is unlikely to ever exist at the ‘bleeding edge’ of options.
The Board of Directors is charged with creating a successful business strategy, whilst faced with an outlook that demands technological innovation to survive. Many markets have been comprehensively disrupted by technically innovative approaches to business and, whilst these disrupters may be seen as visionary leaders, the rest of the market must at least follow or fade away. Limiting survival to following the trend is challenging enough as, given that many of the solutions are technology driven. So, IT must identify, learn and implement follower solutions fast and accurately whilst maintaining the existing legacy, and engineering a switch away from these legacy systems at the right point.
Some organisations, recognising the limitations of the IT Department, have sought to implement technological awareness by appointing Chief Data Officers, Chief Digital Officers and enhancing the remit of Chief Marketing Officers. There are many other examples of C-Suite creations designed to address the gap between the traditional operational IT Department and the need for digital innovation within business. Implemented effectively and with the engagement of the IT Department in the hiring process, this approach can result in a team that works together to deliver both normal operations and to drive innovation and change. There is always a challenge when a new team or department is created, especially where it is seen to be taking the ‘interesting’ work away from the established team, so this approach of creating new roles is not always successful. It also means appointing a full time c-Suite leader into a new role that is often not fully identified, which is a high risk approach, especially for smaller organisations.
Business Leaders are also becoming more technology aware, simply because technology is an increasing part of all of our lives, and also because many vendors are now selling their technology systems direct into the business using the ‘as a Service’ model. This approach often bypasses IT and removes any requirement for the more traditional technical assessments previously undertaken prior to the acquisition of technology. The growth of this shadow IT may meet current needs but is a technological time bomb, as a collection of point solutions will rarely deliver a comprehensive strategy across an entire business.
The greatest issue is with organisations that have an established investment in their existing IT environment, and are facing increasing pressure on their existing business model, finding themselves struggling to balance these two conflicting requirements. Many existing Chief Information Officers or IT Directors have come up through the IT Department ranks and have a comprehensive understanding of the technology in the business. Unfortunately, many of them are locked in to the in-place technology, as this represents the core of their knowledge. They are trained to ensure that the technology they operate is supported and available, but not trained to challenge the relevance of this technology.
Training and development is one of the core issues that is holding back many organisations from technological innovation. However, simply sending existing IT leaders on a course, or to attend a conference, is not the solution. Engaging a new C-Level role is an expensive and often risky approach and requires close the close co-operation of the CIO. One very effective approach is to support the existing CIO with an Advisory service that provides an external view and will challenge the thinking of the CIO, working with them to create new and innovative approaches to business.
Effective CIO Advisors are experienced people, capable of engaging with the business at Board level and quickly understanding the imperatives of the business. As external parties, CIO Advisors have no emotional connection to the existing infrastructure, and therefore bring a dispassionate view to the IT Department. They are also capable of training, developing and mentoring existing staff, both IT and business, to help in the creation of enhanced value within an IT department.
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