Move IT from paralysis to lean and agile

The fear is real for CIOs as a wrong decision or commitment to a long-term IT strategy could cost an organisation billions.

Read time 4min 20sec
Nick Truran.
Nick Truran.

I came across an interesting article recently concerning the conundrum CIOs the world over currently face: the drive to innovate, while cutting IT costs.

The article resonated with me. In my former life, as head of IT operations of a large life insurance business, there was this continual dance between embracing new technologies to facilitate business demand/growth, while squeezing legacy assets and managing an every decreasing IT budget.

Pressure to deliver on these, and address growing demands from the business for IT to lead in innovation and growth, makes the role of the CIO an exceptionally challenging one.

CxO paralysis

I have termed the dilemma CxO paralysis. The fear is real. A wrong decision or commitment to a long-term IT strategy could cost the organisation billions of rands, not to mention lost time in take to market and sales.

Of the 178 of South Africa's top public and private sector CIOs surveyed in the 2017/18 ITWeb CIO Survey, 56% believe their roles are changing faster and more drastically than any other industry. The key drivers for this change are digital migration, competition and globalisation.

Furthermore, 80% of these CIOs cited their inability to move fast enough among their chief concerns, followed by lack of available skills, inadequate budget and compliance pressures.

It's little wonder that IT executives are becoming overwhelmingly fatigued by the constant turbulence.

Similar findings were listed in Gartner's 2018 CIO Agenda Report, with growth topping the list of business priorities reported by CIOs for 2018. South Africa is no different, with 87% of local CIOs giving more focus on driving business growth and less on cutting cost.

Not as simple as it sounds

Using IT to drive business growth is not as simple as it sounds. Technology is evolving at such a rate that only the most adept of organisations have managed to keep up. This is aggravated by the fact that most IT executives have only three- to five-year contracts.

During these short contractual periods, they are employed to deliver on specific needs that the organisation may have at that point in time. Chances are that by the time the executive has managed to get to grips with the organisation and forged a plan to address the original requirement, its needs have changed and a new plan is required.

It's little wonder that IT executives are becoming overwhelmingly fatigued by the constant turbulence. Furthermore, massive cost pressure from the business results in their being paralysed by circumstance and crippled by environmental factors.

Yet, in the face of the same scenario, if basic steps are put in place, transformation can be planned and its implementation begun, painlessly.

Don't throw the baby out with the bath water

The mistake many businesses make is to throw out legacy investments as part of a five-year refreshment cycle, at huge expense.

An organisation recently saved a quarter of a billion rand in investment in storage alone, by reconfiguring the existing infrastructure and sizing a fit-for-purpose platform, prioritising the storage requirements and using a multi-medium approach.

Refresh old technology

This is a maxim I swear by, provided you have a plan and measurement and monitoring platform in place and somewhere to aim towards. You can't plan for cloud service delivery, blockchain, artificial intelligence or any of the new digitisation buzzwords, without this in place. So, welcome to the dance floor.

First step: Determine to have an open mind to do things differently.

Second step: Understand that IT is a service to the business. Your IT teams need to behave as such.

Third step: Measure service delivery. Many basic services are not measured correctly so their value is never fully derived. When your current IT investments encompassing technology, people and processes are being monitored and measured correctly, you can then manage your innovation strategy and delivery to the business more effectively.

Fourth step: Make mentoring and coaching intrinsic to your transformation. Arms' length consulting to the change process is short-sighted. Be prepared for everyone to learn and to grow, even you as the CIO.

Fifth step: Put an agile and flexible engagement framework and process in place. This will enable you to produce technology solutions that align your IT infrastructure with the business strategy.

It will also help reinforce the foundations of your IT infrastructure, while providing the IT team with the tools and time to help the business innovate, often in parallel.

The result is a lean, cost-conscious and highly effective IT landscape that has the agility to evolve as the business demands.

Technology thus can be nimbly deployed to assist the business to address the rapid shifts that digital transformation brings, rather than becoming a reactionary resource that is playing continual catch up.

Nick Truran
Founder and CEO, AgileIT.

Nick Truran is founder and CEO of AgileIT, a strategic IT transformation consultancy created to provide clients with a relevant, agile and senior approach to the management of IT services. A personable, analytical and cost-conscious senior-level executive with extensive experience in technology leadership, Truran is passionate about assisting corporate clients in optimising their existing assets while preparing them to embrace the advantages that new technologies have to offer.

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