Some people invest in IT, some get value, some feel they don’t. Some just don’t invest. So how, in a nutshell, can you give yourself the best chance of making the investment count, and how does it link to your overall success?
A simple, classic growth strategy piece of work might go something like this
IT strategy now kicks in, answering such questions as…
How does the ‘Digital’ agenda fit?
Digital, in my opinion, describes a bunch of technologies once owned by IT because of their complexity/cost, now appearing as commodities to be exploited by non-technical people and organisations. This is a Good Thing and the natural direction of travel. For example, once upon a time, the web site was dealt with by the IT department, but now it’s a natural part of the marketing effort. The commoditisation and proliferation of IT means that more information is available, more channels exist to be exploited, and if we look, we can find out more about our customer (or our customer’s customer). We can work with them in a more effective way, converting our sluggish 20th century processes to shiny new 21st century technology. It’s a big part of both the first AND second ‘How’ questions - whereas not so long ago the second ‘How’ was entirely a Sales and Marketing piece of work. IT and Marketing now need to work together hand-in-hand to exploit these opportunities.
Thinking about these questions, analysing the answers and coming up with a long-term plan isn’t something to be done over the weekend. Each answer asks several more questions, and every organisation will have unique strengths and weaknesses that direct the discussion. It takes commitment and effort, and honesty. But it’s eminently possible, and will highlight the areas that will actively contribute to your business plan, providing genuine return on investment and competitive advantage. It’s vital if you want IT to be a enabler for growth, rather than the frustrating stop-start, costly effort that is playing catch up every time the rest of the organisation remembers to tell them what they’re doing!
There is lots of talk in the blogs and conferences at the moment about ‘Chief Digital Officers’ and what this means for traditional IT. In fact the one certain way you can know it’s a real issue is that top CIOs are denying the need for a CDO. There is a lot of sense in this view in my opinion, of course the answer is not to make someone responsible for the world as it is today whilst everyone else continues to think about yesterday.
But, life isn’t as simple as that. It’s just not sensible to expect people who grew up in an unconnected world to understand and embrace an environment in which things change, and communication happens, at a giddying pace. Teenagers don’t spend their evenings talking to their friends on the phone any more, they text each other, or use social media. Why? Because that way, they can have several conversations at a time. The ‘Generation Game’ is well under way.
The CDO will be a part of life until the digital native generation makes it into the management layer in a bigger way. Most organisations know they have to adapt - and they know they can’t do it wholesale. It’ll be interesting to see where the CDOs come from, and what their expertise is. I’m betting most of them won’t be from the CIO club.
Social media wizards Stamp London have conducted a survey into the digital habits of FTSE 100 CEOs, and some of the results are a little surprising. For example I would expected the number of CEOs with Twitter accounts to have exceeded 12. Maybe not more than 25-30, but 12 is pretty feeble. They record that only 24 have LinkedIn accounts, again I am surprised it’s that low.
Perhaps the most interesting work is around those companies involved in tech and communications. Can it really be that the CEOs of Vodafone and Twitter are connected via neither LinkedIn or Twitter? The world is changing fast, are these guys able to learn as quickly?
Stamp’s report at http://stamplondon.co.uk/2013/10/20/socialceo-report-october-2013/#!
I had the chance to speak to a few CIOs, IT Directors etc about social media recently. One of the subjects we touched upon was how we use social tools to improve collaboration within an organisation. Many companies are using Yammer, Huddle, Sharepoint etc in an effort to collaborate and share information more effectively. Something that one or two had noticed was that a picture makes a big difference. It makes sense, a picture humanises the online presence. You’re no longer a job title, you’re a person.
Collaboration using social tools is about communities. They may be short-term communities built around a particular goal, or more persistent ones that have a core skill or geography in common. Communities are people - so make sure you put a picture on your profile!
E-Safety and kids online -
For parents that want to stay one step ahead…
Recently I’ve become involved with improving e-safety at my kids’ school. It always seemed to me that it’s hard to find out how to improve the quality of filtering systems for personal devices so that they are safer for kids. Of course supervision and education are paramount, but it’s good to sanitise the kit your kids use too.
So, I created the blog linked here so that I can record all the ways I find to improve my kids’ experience of the internet - hopefully it’ll be useful for others too. I’d be fascinated to hear from anyone else with good ideas around this subject.
A first post from me for a while… I’ve been on holiday a couple of times and in between been extremely busy, busy enough to keep me from blogging or doing much of anything other than work!
One of the things I always intended to post about is called IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That. It’s an internet service which uses ‘channels’ to trigger actions. For example, I set up a ‘recipe’ (which is what the IFTTT guys call a combination of channels and triggers) to automatically post things I share on LinkedIn to my Yammer account.
Pretty neat, if you like automating things (I do).
To me this site is a splendid example of what the Internet is for - to quickly get information to people that need it, and for people to be able to share their ideas (the wisdom of the crowd, if you like) as easily as possible. It’s worth reading their description of the service as it’s better than mine and has a better url, https://ifttt.com/wtf
A couple of weeks ago I went to the presentation of this year’s Harvey Nash CIO survey. It’s actually taken me that long to be able to sensibly get my thoughts down onto the blog. Partly because of time constraints, but partly because I didn’t want to write a critical piece without properly thinking it through, making sure I wasn’t just indulging some negativity.
Much of the survey was the same old stuff, are you using mobile, blah, cloud, blah, BYOD, blah blah blah. Then there was a question around advantages and disadvantages of disruptive technologies. Shadow IT, by which we mean IT that has been deployed without the knowledge or blessing of the IT department, was viewed by 8% of CIOs of being High Advantage, and 53% as High Disadvantage.
You can see why this would be. CIOs take the view that this type of IT carries great risk, because it hasn’t been properly vetted, that data can be stored overseas if it is cloud tech, that security could be compromised and that they might suddenly be asked to stretch their meagre budgets to support this stuff that they hadn’t been aware of. However I think this is a pretty blinkered view. Why? Let’s look at a later stat from this survey.
This question asked which percentage of CIOs who saw ‘great innovation potential’ that had not been achieved. 69% thought that not enough time and resources had been invested in innovation. Over two thirds of CIOs think that innovation isn’t happening? Of course, what this means is, two thirds of CIOs don’t think they have the budget to fund ‘innovation’. The glaringly obvious fact is that of course innovation is happening, but it’s happening where innovation always happens, at the edge of the organisation where need is greatest. It’s happening with ‘Shadow IT’. The very thing that CIOs fear most is the source of the innovation they don’t see.
The traditional CIO is in a very dangerous place right now. IT is no longer something that can be controlled, locked down and spoon-fed to grateful ‘users’. To resist this and bemoan ‘Shadow IT’ as a disadvantage is to consign oneself to the dustbin. There were a couple of long-in-the-tooth CIOs on the panel at this event that chuckled at the idea of ‘Big Data’. ”We’ve seen it all before” they say. How wrong, and complacent can you be. There has never been a time of change and growth of data like there is today. IT has never been available in such a consumerised, and commoditised form. And this pace isn’t slowing, it’s accelerating.
There is a quote elsewhere on this blog from a US Army chief that says ‘If you don’t like change, you’re really not going to like irrelevance’. CIOs take note - control is a thing of the past.
At the IT Directors Forum this year I attended a session by Gartner, one of the themes of which was ‘how does the CIO increase his/her influence in the business’. Gartner and many other organisations have been paddling this canoe for a few years now, and I’m starting to think that it’s an idea that’s past its sell-by date.
I’m not suggesting, by the way, that it is becoming irrelevant because there has been some change in the tide, that IT leaders are now accepted as a fundamental part of the senior management of the business. That is patently not the case in the majority of organisations. There are many examples where the CIO or IT Director has an ongoing and valuable part to play in the running of the organisation but this is still a relative rarity.
No, I think it’s losing relevance rapidly because of the increasing commoditisation of a lot of what the IT department does. As a service provider the IT department can hope and aspire to be a ‘trusted partner’, in the same way that the man that maintains your car can be a valuable source of information. If you trust his opinion and ask his advice, he might tell you that he replaces your brake pads more often than he would expect, and that you might be a little heavy on the gas and the brake. This advice could save you money on maintenance and fuel economy, but the relationship has to be good for this advice to be offered and accepted - if it’s unsolicited then it can be seen as extremely presumptuous, and the response ‘mind your own business’ might be forthcoming.
It’s time to wake up and realise that the IT leader isn’t driving the car. There are times and places where the unique viewpoint of the IT leader is valuable and should be sought out, and (as is a common theme of this blog) the wise business takes the time to involve this important partner. But the idea that ‘increasing influence’ is an important or necessary activity is now rather self-serving and speaks of personal ambition rather than corporate improvement.
Matt Ballantine makes a related (and as usual, more eloquent) point in his recent blog post, and links to other articles that are well worth a read if you are interested in exploring this idea further.
How to publish a proper list of Social Business ROI examples. -
In this blog post, Olivier Blanchard takes us through what is a pretty comprehensive description of how to document ROI for social media / social business projects. In fact what he does is to reiterate the rules for reporting ROI for pretty much any effort.A key piece of advice in this post is not to rely on anecdotal evidence. If you want to retain any kind of credibility at all, you need to be 100% sure of your source data, don’t put yourself in a position where somebody can do an hour’s research and show your case to be built on sand. This is your career we’re talking about!Sometimes you come across a piece like this that teaches you a lot of lessons in a very short space of time, and you just have to share it.
What’s the most important thing an IT department does? It’s important to maintain systems, ‘keep the lights on’ as they say, and to resolve problems in a professional manner. This is essentially managing the technology. But in order to add value, we should concentrate less on the ‘T’ in IT. The ‘I’ is where the function makes a difference, by delivering the right information to the right people, quickly. They can then make faster, better, more informed decisions. This reduces costs, both the measurable cost that comes as a result of poorly focused work, and the opportunity cost that comes with making poor choices. It can and should also lead to happier customers, who see an organisation working well, with their finger on the pulse.
This isn’t always straightforward. Many organisations don’t get this, and treat their IT departments as custodians of the technology and nothing more. Many IT departments don’t get it either, or can’t communicate their potential value in an effective way.
When I was thinking about this the other day, a whimsical thought occurred to me as I considered ‘corporate IT’. The word ‘corporate’ is from the latin corporatus, from the root corpus, or body. If you consider the organisation to be a body, the technology, the networks and systems are the organs and arteries, that exist to move the information oxygen around. They are only there for that purpose. It is information that allows the body to make choices, move forward, achieve its aims.
Allowing the IT department to forget about the ‘I’, is to starve the whole entity of a vital function. Unfortunately the Information is often forgotten in the shadow of the Technology.
Since 2007 we have been through a turbulent economic time, with credit crunch, followed by recession, followed by (in the UK at least) a Government seemingly hell-bent on managing a contraction of the economy rather than fighting to grow it. In business this environment has been tough. Over the last few years I’ve had my share of tough decisions to make, had endless conversations with colleagues telling them how we’re on top of things and that things would work out for the best, and felt the frustration in myself, and from colleagues, when they don’t work out quite as well as we’d all hoped.
Still, we’re still here and still have problems to manage. I’m going to talk about the our IT functions specifically now - we have shared in the pain and been asked to find cost savings, cut budgets, show ROI in the weeks and months rather than years. Is there anything IT Directors can do to keep contributing to the success of the business despite the pressures on budgets?
I believe it’s possible to add value and be a vehicle for success as an IT department but it takes courage, discipline and a willingness to change.
It’s important to be able to
Some of these will cause problems at first, nobody likes to hear ‘no’, especially from a support function. But consistently applied, allied with judicious technology choices, these principles will win respect and bring success for all concerned in the long term.