Time for IT rehab

There's no need to go cold turkey when it comes to breaking bad tech habits.

Most companies have bad IT habits, which hold them back and prevent them from benefiting from innovative technologies and digital services. Ending repetitive transformation cycles that don't deliver, and aren't aligned to the business, means building adaptive, iterative solutions that help keep the business from achieving its vision.

To break bad IT habits, companies don't need to go 'cold turkey', as this will distract them from the things they need to focus on. An IT rehab that involves a massive 'A to B' type of change programme won't work, nor will a new target operating model (TOM).

The wrong programmes buy legacy from day one. They are static by design and lock out innovation and adaptation. They centre on the 'whats' and the 'hows', when they should be focusing on 'where' to act and 'why'. They often rely on a single way of working - 'agile everywhere', or a single sourcing approach that says "outsource everything now", or "in-house it all at once". In reality, a combination is what is needed, ensuring companies buy the right solutions, in the right way, at the right time.

An example of this would be bimodal teams, or similar organisational terms coined by the big consultancies to push their latest drug on businesses. These may sound impressive, but they aren't really; they speak to the way consultancies define strategy based on what others are doing, or by jumping on to the latest industry trends and buzzwords bandwagon.

They will implement bureaucratic governance structures that are about talking instead of decision-making. They force budget approval mechanisms that are neither staged nor iterative, and require thumb-sucking and guess work into the distant future. They advocate that products and services should be designed around organisational structures and politics, rather than user needs.

Vision - why and where

Any true transformation should be defined based on a clear understanding of why companies should act and where. This will be unique to the business and will help it create manageable and iterative change to achieve its desired vision. When the company gets the 'why' and the 'where' right, the 'what' and the 'how' will naturally follow.

Identify which changes are the ones that will have greatest impact on achieving the vision and why. If the vision is to debut a new service, the company must ensure resources are focused on that and not on 'keeping the lights on' activities.

Any true transformation should be defined based on a clear understanding of why companies should act and where.

It's not about a sweeping change to existing IT, but to the company's mind-set and approach to leadership, strategy and delivery. This means changing the way the business thinks and acts, and facilitating an environment in which products and services can be iteratively transformed to meet constantly evolving customer needs, and to exploit the ever-changing market and ICT opportunities.

Define a clear and ambitious vision of where the business wants to get to, what it wants to achieve, and any obstacles that might prevent this. Then, with the leadership team, define the principles and values that will guide business decisions. Now, be brave and extend this collaboration to include the business and co-create.

Componentised view

Eliminate the fog that clouds the company's understanding of current technologies. Map the components that make up the company's services - both IT and business - understanding how they meet the users' needs or don't, and whether or not they help the company achieve its vision.

Situational awareness and strategy development techniques have to help the company understand simply and visually what IT it currently has in terms of technology, information, practices and suchlike, then focus on where and why the business should act.

The company should use what it has that is good, and focus its resources on change that will make a difference.

Design before buying

Users' needs should be at the heart of all design, not the needs of the organisational silos or divisions. Adopt a service design approach to creating and iteratively improving services. Place the users' needs at the heart of the company's design. Service design thinking will help a business create an end-to-end experience, identifying the user's pain points in order to overcome them and create services people want to use.

Deliver change in small, achievable, prioritised chunks, not massive complex programmes. Use the most appropriate technique to manage the change. Employ the fundamental shifts in technology capability and supply models to make iterative delivery easier.

Embed procurement in the situational awareness team, so they help identify the most appropriate supply models and deliver contracts that enable achieving the vision, not ones that make their lives easier.

Build an IT organisation that creates, delivers and celebrates exceptional solutions, not one that focuses on identifying every potential reason why not to act. Understanding the types of personalities needed is key, not a static TOM-based organisational chart of skills or competencies.

Gain buy-in from the wider organisation though working out loud, co-creation and multidisciplinary teams.

For companies that really want to kick their bad IT habits and drive the digital [r]evolution, they need to adopt an iterative approach to transformation. They must define a clear and aspirational vision of where they want to get to. Utilise situational awareness tools, and adopt service design thinking. Iterate, identify and deal with the blockers to change.

This may seem too costly or complex, but it isn't. Companies can't afford not to change - their competitors are.

Jan Joubert
Founder and CEO of Rainmaker Solutions.

Born and raised in South Africa, founder and CEO of Rainmaker Solutions Jan Joubert is a disruptive thought leader and vocal champion of putting an end to outdated, archaic IT practices. Rainmaker has completed projects for some of the UK’s largest organisations, including The Home Office, Lockheed, Amazon and OFSTED, and was at the heart of the work behind the UK government’s G-Cloud initiative and the Government Digital Service. Making a difference is a significant driver for all Rainmaker employees and this is reflected in their philanthropy through the company charity, the Buffalo Foundation, which raises funds for disadvantaged children in SA.

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