Progressive Ideas for the New Role of IT

Brian Wood Blog

Ch-ch-ch-changes in our information-rich, data-driven, knowledge-producing workplaces requires new modes of thinking by, and support from, IT.

Centralized, top-down planning and deployment now needs to morph into dispersed, bottoms-up, street-level support.

Business cases and long-range budgets go out the window — or do they?

Summary by Caron Carlson in FierceCIO; original by Andrew Horne in CEB

Emphasis in red added by me.

Brian Wood, VP Marketing


In the future, does IT respond or lead?

In an era of nearly constant organizational change, abundant technology choice and interdependent work, some fresh thinking is needed in IT. There are five things CIOs can do to facilitate the “new future of IT,” advises Andrew Horne in a post at CEB.

First, as opportunities for increased productivity by way of process automation decline, IT can help further boost productivity by facilitating improved collaboration, expanding information management to take in more data sources, and make mobility the norm, Horne recommends.

Next, IT support should be repurposed to help make employees more productive, not just to fix things that don’t work. At the same time, users are increasingly likely to access applications and data from diverse interfaces, and IT will have to manage the portfolio of interfaces, delivering the necessary integration and security. The frontline users, rather than senior executives, should become a major focus for IT in terms of gathering insight into employee needs.

Finally, IT planning and budgeting timeframes have to be shorter, shifting “from anticipate to respond,” in Horne’s view. Plus, business cases need to be less rigorous. “We already see organizations adopting flexible strategies and rolling budgets,” he writes.

Fierce’s Take: It can never hurt for IT to get closer to the users when planning new technology deployments, and there’s little doubt that IT will be asked to manage a growing portfolio of interfaces going forward. As for collaboration, data analytics and mobility, every organization’s needs will be unique. I’m not convinced, however, that curtailing planning and budget horizons or foregoing strong business cases will ultimately help IT or the business it serves. IT is expected to help lead business these days, not just react to it. IT leadership should strive to be out front in the development of the business strategy, which does require anticipation, also known as foresight, vision and sometimes even wisdom.


The New Future of IT

Previously CEB described four trends that are shaping the new work environment and creating a new future of IT.

Employees now work interdependently, experience near constant organizational change, focus on knowledge work, and face an explosion of technology choice. These changes are already happening, and we believe there are five steps CIOs must take in response across the next three years.

1. Ready IT to Drive Employee Productivity
At many progressive companies, opportunities for productivity gains from further process automation are running low. The next opportunity comes from better enabling individual and team productivity. In an environment where most employees are interdependent and produce knowledge work, this means three things for IT:

  • Understanding how teams collaborate and enabling each team to collaborate better.
  • Broadening the scope of information management to generate greater insight from unstructured and external information sources.
  • Embedding mobility as a core element of IT strategy, not a niche offering or afterthought.

2. Equip Employees with Competencies, Not Just Tools
In the past, IT trained employees to use new application functionality, then provided a service desk if anything broke. As employees take on more information-intensive work, and become better at helping each other with basic technical fixes, IT should repurpose its support capabilities. The new goal should be to help employees use technology and information to be productive. This is not something IT can do alone; it requires close cooperation with other corporate functions.

3. Separate Flexible Interfaces from Foundational Data
Usability becomes a big issue in a world where employees have more technology choice, and where technology enables personalized and discretionary tasks such as analysis and collaboration, not just transaction execution. The traditional approach where all employees use essentially the same interface to access an application, regardless of how they use that application, fails to provide the necessary levels of usability.

We believe that IT will cease to be the sole provider of interfaces. Employees will access application functionality and data through a variety of apps rather than a single, one-size-fits-all interface. These apps will come from a variety of external and internal sources, including the employees themselves. IT will oversee and promote the portfolio of interfaces, provide integration and security services that connect the interfaces to underlying applications and data sources, and gradually transition legacy systems to this new model.

4. Shift Engagement Focus from Leaders to Employees
If you really want to know how to make employees more productive, asking a senior executive is the wrong place to start. But many IT teams do just that by relying on business relationship managers (BRMs) to be the main conduit for business priorities and opportunities. BRMs fight tooth and nail to build relationships with senior company leaders, leaving little time to understand the needs of frontline employees.

In the new work environment, CIOs must supplement the BRM role with mechanisms to directly sense employee needs. This means more than just having a good business analyst scope project requirements. Well before any projects are launched, employee productivity needs should be a factor in IT strategy and investment prioritization.

5. Move IT Strategy and Budgets From Anticipate to Respond
The pace of organizational and technology change, and the need to experiment and iterate in areas such as BI, collaboration, and mobility, require shorter IT planning and budgeting horizons and less rigorous business cases. We already see organizations adopting flexible strategies and rolling budgets. Anecdotally, progressive CIOs tell us that more IT investments decisions are now rely on a good use case and a credible fit with strategic goals, rather than time-consuming and often highly speculative “hard dollar” business cases.