Sink or Swim: IT's New Paradigm Shift

Jul 30, 2019

Organizations of all sizes, in almost every industry, are experiencing the effects of disruptive forces that reward innovation and punish protectionism. Leaders are increasingly reliant on predictive modeling and adaptive technology enablement to sense and quickly respond to changes in the marketplace. Many of today’s top IT organizations are evolving to support these needs.

Traditional IT developed around monolithic technologies, primarily operating in a transactional manner to support businesses as they progress on steady, predictable paths. These legacy systems remain crucial to the efficient operations of countless industry leaders today, but at the same time, they cause some drag on an organization’s ability to adapt to shifting demands for speed and agility.

Constructed more for how IT is produced than consumed, many IT departments are struggling. In today’s growth economy, this struggle often manifests in the form of a never-ending list of seemingly conflicting priorities from the business. Without procedures in place to align with business strategy, many technology teams appear to be treading water.

Evaluating and evolving your IT value proposition

An excellent place to start with this challenge is to rethink from the outside in. First, define your IT value proposition. Start by thinking about segmenting your population of users or IT stakeholders (e.g., customers, employees, partners). Within each segment, perform a quick assessment of jobs done by stakeholders. Be sure to understand your pains and gains — and how IT is positioning its services to address them.

To get the process going, consider this series of questions:

  • What are the key trends impacting your business, and how is it evolving?
  • How is your business allocating its non-IT resources and capabilities to improve margins, reduce costs and grow revenue? How will you measure improvements?
  • What business-improvement services or products does IT offer for achieving these desired outcomes?
  • How is IT organized to design, deliver and improve these services?
  • Are there clear lines of accountability between IT and the rest of your business?

This is not just about project delivery; it’s instead about delivering, via an IT-enabled, business-capabilities-driven approach, the achievement and improvement of your organization’s business architecture and, thereby, performance results. Shifting from an IT project mindset to a business product or service mindset influences how you think about IT offerings and solutions, as well as how you assign ownership and accountability.

Once you have segmented your IT stakeholders, identified the jobs they are doing and articulated the value proposition behind the products and services IT offers to help them do these jobs, you can begin to define the resources required to deliver and support that IT contribution. Then, you’ll want to reconcile this ideal future state with the resources and the skills currently deployed.

To operationalize any changes in your model, the skills you are going to need can be updated with training and hiring new talent. However, the mindset shift requires much more than that. Like any new muscle, it requires cycles of training and evaluation to develop high performance. Organizations often opt to have managers assist in coaching their teams into this new way of thinking to sustain their new way of operating.

There are three main challenges when thinking about a new operating model for IT. Just knowing what you may face will help you address them in advance.

1. Inertia

What it is: The ability to move from where you are to where you want to be. It’s about shedding old ideas (like the rec leagues where it’s just about participating) and embracing new ones (like the Olympics, where it’s about a determined battle for results).

Why it’s a problem: Inertia comes in many forms. It disguises itself as progress at first but evaporates into the ether, as urgent matters and shifting priorities cause you to snooze instead of pushing for improvement by hitting the pool before sunrise.

How to address it: Solid lines of accountability and quantitative measures held together by a collaborative culture of benefits realization.

2. Knowing what good looks like

What it is: Having a point of reference in a well-articulated vision on what “good” looks like.

Why it’s needed: To serve as the gold medal criteria for the organization, as well as allow the team to understand and commit to the collective expectations and goals.

How to address it: Provide your team with a clear vision, and articulate guiding principles for them pursuing the awards podium.

3. Having the right people — and enough of them

What it is: Having enough people who understand your vision and who know their responsibilities. The most competitive teams field a diverse group of swimmers, each with the stroke and endurance for their respective contribution.

Why it’s important: IT leaders and their teammates in critical business-facing roles will be the main point on which your team and their customers measure the IT contribution.

How to address it: Ensure you are deeply involved in the selection of every person for every role until you are certain that the IT team understands the criteria and thinking behind hiring or promoting individuals.

Preparing your team for the future

IT’s function needs to transform to meet the demands of the new digital enterprise. From changing mindsets to redefining the IT agenda, there is much work ahead. You can start by focusing on these three things:

1. Take an outside-in view of how the services IT offers are consumed, with a deep walkthrough of your customers and the jobs to be done.

2. Evaluate your offerings and how you deliver them against the pains and gains that your customers experience or desire.

3. Identify opportunities to reallocate resources and update skills to deliver the highest value for your customers.

Business is a team sport. IT must upgrade its contribution with both a more competitive stroke for its part of the medley, as well as optimal integration into that overall team performance. On your mark.



This article was originally published on Forbes.com on June 20, 2019. Doug Smith is a member of the Forbes Technology Council.


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