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The super-resilient IT function

IT functions don’t have to continue taking the blame for organisational failures, they can take the lead in transforming the business

If you are a denizen of the IT function, you may have noticed how users are becoming more stressed. You may even sense an uptick in stress raining down from above. That said, you might not have noticed because in your IT function every day is “siege day”.

Of course, many IT functions have “history” with the users. In some cases, this has settled into a mutually distrusting relationship where both service provision and reception are joyless experiences.

You might reflect on why that is. It could be that users expect too much for too little investment. Consumer technologies have reset corporate user expectations. It could be that IT departments don’t really get “service”. IT service management approaches tend to be strong on process engineering and light on empathy.

Your business has a problem

In any case, the IT-user bond is under pressure. And that pressure will ramp up in line with the increasing uncertainty and volatility that we are experiencing as we leave the industrial era. As mentioned in my previous article, the era of synthetic certainty is over. Every organisation is heading towards an unknowable future.

Consequently, organisations need to evolve from the arthritic factory model of the industrial era to a model more akin to a highly adaptable living organism. In many respects, the IT function is the organisation’s nervous system.

Today, the organisation requires an IT function that enables it to sense its environment and respond to threats and opportunities in real time, on top of the routine tasks of supporting users and meeting the needs of the market. Innovation is the key to success in the digital age. The IT function is expected to adapt accordingly, despite the legacy of disparate IT systems acquired over the years.

“Organisations need to evolve from the arthritic factory model of the industrial era to a model more akin to a highly adaptable living organism”
Ade McCormack, Auridian Consulting

We operate in a world where new technologies can not only provide a competitive advantage, but reinvent industries. One would expect the IT function to be leading the organisation’s disruptive charge. It can be a full-time job to simply maintain a “run the business” level of IT service, thus leaving no bandwidth for more innovative game-changing experimentation.

Traditional businesses are struggling to transform themselves from factory to living organism. Think of a very unathletic individual competing in a gymnastics competition. Their untrained nervous system is letting them down. People don’t tend to berate their nervous systems. But at an organisational level, businesses are quick to blame their IT function when the business underperforms.

So the IT function has two options. Accept that beration is part and parcel of being in IT, so just “suck it up”, despite the increasing intensity. Or take the lead in transforming the organisation to become super-resilient.

The following actions will help:

  • Build trust: This is difficult if the user-IT relationship is built on a track record of distrust. However it is job number one, as trust underpins success in challenging times. An outreach programme that involves building trusting relationships at all levels of the organisation would go a long way in this respect.
  • Fix the infrastructure: It is likely that your current IT infrastructure is optimised for business-as-is, rather than for business-as-might-be. It is also very likely that your IT infrastructure isn’t even optimised for the former. If over the years your organisation has acquired other organisations and made poor enterprise application decisions, it is likely that your architecture is thwarting business-as-is and is unlikely to withstand the pressure of an ever-pivoting organisation. While this suggestion is fundamental to supporting the business going forward, only the most enlightened of CEOs would invest as needed to rectify this. Digital-age CEOs need to realise that in a data-driven world, a poor IT architecture leads to a poor data enterprise model, which in turn leads to poor business decisions. If your CEO doesn’t buy that, then I would plan your organisational evacuation or brace yourself for an uptick in user scorn.
  • Turn data into value: Only when you have addressed any infrastructural issues can you move onto data acquisition and refinement. Consider how the internet of things (IoT) can be deployed to improve the organisation’s sensitivity to what is happening in the market. Acquire the best analytics tools and data analysis experts to enhance organisational situational awareness.
  • Augment the humans: Artificial intelligence (AI), despite still being in its infancy, is mature enough to do many process-oriented tasks. Look for opportunities to free up the cognitive bandwidth of users by automating such tasks. This freed-up bandwidth can be used to provide the market with more innovative solutions. You might start this exercise within the IT function.
  • Agree what success looks like: It is likely that the IT function is measured largely from a cost perspective. It is difficult to measure value-creation because this is a result of IT-user symbiosis. Nonetheless, the business leaders need to reward IT function initiatives that set the conditions for value creation. Progress in any of the areas I have mentioned are certainly worth rewarding.

In summary

Today’s IT functions can become genuine business partners. In fact, the business needs a tech-savvy partner to navigate this post-industrial landscape. But the journey to partnership requires a radical shift in the user-IT function dynamic.

Education is key to accelerating this journey. Many business leaders know they must transform, but don’t know how. This is where the IT function can move from the engine room to the helm.


This is the second article in a series of three. Read part one and part three.

Ade McCormack has developed an online education programme to cultivate organisational super-resilience. Visit www.dri.guide and select the Business Transformation Programme. You will receive 50% discount with coupon code CWDRI19.

 

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