Agility is a big deal. As companies embrace digital transformation, we have stopped defending the old ways of doing business. Instead, we focus on making sure appropriate change occurs. We reorganise people, processes and technology to empower change and drive tangible results.
In IT, we are used to thinking of agility in terms of the development team. Today, it means more. CIOs need to build and present an entire agile IT organisation, which requires giving some serious thought to the way the organisation works. We must move to a new IT operating model. This sounds daunting, but it does not have to be. To start putting more action behind all this talk of IT agility, CIOs have to lead their teams through some fundamental shifts.
IT departments continue to fall into the same trap. Traditionally, 70-80% of IT spending goes to maintenance and upkeep of legacy systems—keeping the lights on—and only 20% on innovation to move the business forward. Most of us have operated under cost pressures, more in some industries than others. Operating with half the IT staff, or sometimes less, is the new normal and we should not expect that to change significantly. Everyone across the entire business has to do more with less. However, the business needs IT to support new initiatives in order to grow. Therein lies the rub; with limited people and time, we cannot respond because we are too busy keeping the lights on.
It is time we dramatically shift the 80:20 ratio; until we do so, IT will be seen as just another cost center. CIOs need to lead their IT teams to root out their own manual, repeatable processes. All the routine, menial stuff that takes up valuable IT resources should be automated so that staff can tackle productive work that requires creativity and imagination and moves the business forward.
If a company is just starting to automate IT processes, it is typical to start with the simplest tasks like password resets and on-boarding new hires. This makes sense. On average 25% of the help desk calls are password related. Resetting employees’ forgotten passwords is an easy problem for the help desk to fix, but it still takes time. Automate it.
Automating the simple tasks will deliver incremental improvements but, for maximum impact, tackle some of the messier stuff first. Automating complex, multi-step, highly manual activities that touch multiple people can more quickly deliver the agility needed. Routine changes, diagnostics, performance monitoring and incident resolution are a few places ripe for automation.
Increasingly, machines are aware when something is not right. Automation should start with the creation of work incidents in the first place. Why cannot the infrastructure and end-user machines create the incident versus a human having to do it? To take this a step further, why cannot an intelligent machine resolve the incident once it is received? All without requiring a human to intervene.
The time we get back by automating everything that simply makes systems work affords IT departments the much-needed room to be agile and deliver business value.
Most IT organisations struggle with talking in a language that speaks to business leaders. If IT sits down with the head of sales about a project and the question we ask is What do you need us to do? then we have become an order taker. We need to talk to stakeholders in their business terms and outcomes.
An agile IT organisation needs people who have half their brain in IT and the other half in sales, marketing, finance or whichever line of business is sitting across the table. These IT people work with the business leaders to define the outcomes they are after. They seek to understand why something needs to change, not just how. This skillset is what separates leading IT organisations from the rest.
To help IT to start using the same vocabulary, one of my CIO peers started requiring all IT staffers to listen to quarterly earnings calls with analysts. That helped IT to understand the strategic goals of the business and to ask some poignant questions. It did not take long for this IT organisation to start finding ways they could deliver results that not just align with business priorities but deliver business results.
As you free up IT’s time to be creative, innovative and imaginative, there will be no shortage of good ideas. CIOs know we cannot be agile at everything that comes our way.
What is truly important will be grounded in tangible business results; what is not will waste valuable IT time and kill agility. It is critical IT recognise the difference. As IT staff become fluent in the business language and asks the right questions, what is important will become easier to spot.
We also need to consider that there is a difference between what is important versus what is urgent. Urgent is putting out fires, busywork or tasks IT staff tackle first because they are easier than the project list. But urgent requests that should only take a couple of minutes end up taking an hour. At the end of the day, we’re wondering where all the time went.
As CIOs, we are focused on driving business outcomes and strategies for growth, efficiency and productivity. As we build agile IT organisations and focus on delivering business results, we cannot overlook the legacy internal structures—down to compensation structures—that need to change too.
It comes down to fear. Fear is a show stopper for building an agile IT organisation. CIOs need to have patience, train their IT teams and get them past the fear, uncertainty and doubt. Bear in mind it is not just fear of irrelevance that derails IT agility. Having the time to innovate and take risks in IT all in the name of better business outcomes sounds great, but what happens when an idea doesn’t work? IT folks need to know it is OK to fail and that mistakes will not be a capital crime. It is the CIO’s job to give their teams a safety net.
Building an agile IT organisation will not be easy. It will be uncomfortable at times, but it will be worth the effort. The agility we build into our organisations today will ensure IT does not become the order takers of tomorrow.
- To help IT to start using the same vocabulary all IT staffers can listen to earnings calls with analysts.
- Fear is a show stopper for building an agile IT organisation.
- CIOs need to have patience, train their IT teams and get them past the fear, uncertainty and doubt.
- Traditionally, 70-80% of IT spending goes to maintenance and upkeep of legacy systems and only 20% on innovation to move the business forward.
- Business needs IT to support new initiatives in order to grow.
- With limited people and time IT cannot respond because we are too busy keeping lights on.
- It is time to shift the 80:20 ratio and until we do so IT will be seen as just another cost center.
- CIOs need to lead their IT teams to root out their own manual, repeatable processes.
- Automating simple tasks will deliver incremental improvements but for maximum impact, tackle the messier stuff first.
Changing the 80:20 rule by automating manual IT functions will give IT managers time to align with business, writes Chris Bedi at ServiceNow.