Weekly Update

Will the real change agent please stand up?

For 20 years IT has pitched itself as the “change agent” in the company. More specifically, IT was positioning itself as the provocateur to bring increased value to the company lines of business through the use of technology.

But is IT really the change agent? And should it be the change agent? The short answer for many is: No, IT is not the change agent today, but it should be. And the CIO should be the one leading the charge. Refer back to the post ‘Transforming IT Requires a Three-Legged Race,” which details the three components required for change and that the CIO should take the lead. The reality today is that the catalyst of change is coming from groups outside of IT.

For more than three decades IT has seen a fair number of evolutionary changes. While many of these changes resulted in great improvements for businesses, over the past decade the IT organization struggled to keep up. Is it evolving? Yes, for some, but far too slowly for the vast majority of organizations. And the scary thing is that many IT organizations (and CIOs) are in denial of the problem.

Unfortunately, some outside of IT refer to IT as the “department of no” or “where big projects go to die.” These are actual statements made by company executives when referring to IT. While not a flattering impression of IT, it is a key reason why organizations outside of IT are driving the change.

Velocity of change

Another reason for the discrepancy is due to velocity of change. IT is simply not able to keep up with the onslaught of requests coming from the different lines of business, and the rates in the two vectors is creating a growing rift between them.

Velocity Innovation Change

We can clearly attribute the changes in business change (and customer demand). However, to understand the IT vector one needs to dig a bit deeper and consider the anthropology of IT. IT has made it a mission to build systems and architectures for growth, but that planning did consider scale and agility. The problem is that it did not take into account the rate of scale or worse yet, the requirements around agility. This is the crux of the problem in most technology architectures today.

The technology choices only tell one part of the story. The other two parts deal with process and organizational challenges. The structure of the IT organization has not changed much over the past two decades. Even the processes used to manage demand and change have not evolved much. Mention concepts such as devops to some organizations and you might as well be talking in some incomprehensible language. The core issue is that the current state of IT is not in a position to handle the current demands, let alone future ones coming to its doorstep.

Resistance to change

That seemingly paints a pretty negative view of IT, right? Understanding these issues should push many CIOs and IT organizations to start making the change, right? Unfortunately, it is not that simple. The irony is that the same organizations that see themselves as change agents that are viewed, externally, as ultimately resistant to change.

Even today, phrases like “that’s the way we’ve always done it” are still widely in use. The way that solutions are purchased by IT has not changed either. For example, IT organizations are still buying cloud services just like any other enterprise software. From the language used to communicate requirements to the vetting of the solution by asking what hardware the provider is using to the terms used in contract, the examples are widespread.

CIO leadership

It is time to do away with the old way of thinking and start adopting the new ways. That does not mean a wholesale change. It means starting by understanding the changes needed and building a plan of attack. This is where the transformational CIO comes in. Consider the post ‘Three harmonious factors that change the CIO octave” that outlines the steps to assist the CIO in leading the change.

Does this doom-and-gloom picture represent every IT organization out there? No. There are pockets of success, either wholesale or starting the journey of change. The key for the CIO is to start with an outside, objective perspective and conduct a self-evaluation. Do not get defensive. Listen and understand.

From experience, making the change and turning the corner can actually be very liberating. Just be aware that the largest challenge will be the people. This is where the CIO needs to work closely with his or her team through the process. Team is not an individual sport and this is a great opportunity for the CIO and IT to turn the corner and shine.

Bottom Line: This is the best time to be in IT and to be a CIO. For those that have made the transition, the potential is huge.