By Karl Fischer
The business and technology world is undoubtedly undergoing an incredible journey. There is an avalanche of technology capabilities and opportunities that can seem overwhelming at first, but that wave of innovation is also one that is enabling success.
The traditional lines between "business" and "IT" have at the very least been blurred if not eliminated in organisations adopting the digital revolution. For these companies, IT is a business life-blood and business a heartbeat that drives demand for technology and requirements.
So how does IT become the Business Hero of today?
Having a roadmap (a "GPS" for millennials) to guide one would help, so here are the six advisory steps we utilise at DVT to assist our clients to understand digital and agile transformation context and become heroes to their business.
Step 1: Know where your business wants and needs to go.
Understand the opportunities and how they line up with what your business is trying to achieve.
For the digital (or digital aspirant) business, there are a few typical positions that you can identify and align with to provide the technology focus needed to enable achieving those goals. Consider Gartner's "Journey to Digital Business":
Knowing the goals and objectives of your business, then consider the maturity of your IT function and consequent ability to contribute.
Know your business's key objectives and then align with and measure your IT activities toward achieving those goals. Develop your framework by positioning where IT is today for your business, and where it needs to be to make your business successful.
Step 2: Road trips are better with friends (Collaboration is the new normal)
In most established organisations, the IT function has evolved over time and is probably not identified alongside innovation and agility. If IT in your business is seen as the Innovator, then you are well ahead of the curve. But most departments will need to show a new dimension and practice conscious change management to reposition IT as a key enabler of the business.
A good anecdotal gauge is if there is a distinction between "business projects" and "IT projects". When there isn't, IT has "made it" into being just another key business contributor. Getting there often means bringing in "friends" with specialist skills and experience that can fast-track you into the technologies and processes that are enabling digital initiatives (Think cloud, social, mobile and analytics). More importantly, the nature of the engagement with your new best friends can well be different to consulting engagements of the past with the "experts", providing an expensive opinion as to what needs to be done. Ever had that experience where you were left wondering, "That's interesting, but HOW do we do this?"
At DVT, we look to establish a partnership with our clients that will see them function not just deliver on project objectives but gain the insight, skills and capability that will enable them to take the initiatives forward in the future. When our clients are better off, we've delivered on our partnership commitment. Our extended eco-system of partners with specialist skills ensures we are well positioned to provide a full-fledged solution. Digital is complex and extensive in scope. Bringing the right parties to an initiative, with the right attitude toward a common intent leads to better results.
Find partners with the experience that compliments your team and where collaboration and knowledge transfer are part of the engagement.
Step 3: Get to know the roads (Ask someone who has been there before then review the options)
Leverage expertise both internally and externally to understand your tactical choices. Consider short little "trips" (experiments with the technology or process) that will give you a better idea of learning curves, ease of use and relevance to the key outcomes your business is looking to achieve.
Knowing there is more than one way to achieve an outcome (and continuing to look for options even after you have a favourite) immediately reduces risk about the investment you will recommend. It's important that IT has considered the alternatives and is providing an informed, business savvy opinion.
Initiate "meet-ups" to talk digital and new ideas and open the invitation to both internal and external parties.
Step 4: Listen to the GPS. Guides are useful, but take the shortcuts
Expectations have changed significantly as to what is possible, what IT should be providing, and the speed at which solutions should be delivered. Fortunately, IT and technology have been innovating at a similarly dramatic pace. There is a multitude of technologies, methodologies and collaborations that can help IT shift its performance and rise to the challenge.
The Agile business may adopt a credo of "fail fast, succeed faster" but that's likely to create significant discomfort in the boardroom unless it's explained (and shown to be managed responsibly). Akin to looking for the shortcuts on the map and having the GPS recalculate the path to journey's end, the introduction of new processes, expertise and technologies can radically shorten the transformation of IT into a current and relevant digital business partner. There's no singular path to the outcome, so consider your options and start with small-scale initiatives on which you can build momentum and where success is probable.
Look for short-term, manageable changes that can start to move your function toward the end goal state (effectively making change through bite-sized, right-sized initiatives).
Step 5: Look at the road, not the representation (Plan and then plan for change)
Expect to make changes and adjust your plans. Having a plan is great. Being responsive and prepared for a change in the journey needs to be standard practice (Agile in essence and action). All too often the adoption of Agile is used as the excuse for:
- lack of planning - "Agile is about doing, not planning" – False
- lack of documentation - "Agile doesn't use requirements documentation or value specifications or analysis" – False
- lack of outcomes - "Agile means we change to work on each and every new request" – False
In the context of the transformation of IT functions, management teams need to consciously manage the change being introduced into the function. Changes in methodology can be difficult to achieve if attempted as purely an IT change. Agile is manifestly NOT just an IT change in how projects are run.
As an organisation focused on Agile, both as a service to our clients and as to how we operate, we know that successful implementation of Agile is a journey best led by those who have been down the path (multiple times). It's why we offer Agile Transformation programmes to our clients and follow them ourselves, believing in an evolution driven by a shared Agile philosophy.
Adopt a conscious programme of change management that intends to see the transformation of the organisation to an Agile entity. Note that just because methodologies like SCRUM have typically taken root in IT departments does not mean that everyone in your IT department (and certainly not across your organisation) understands Agile and is supportive of the change. Consider utilising a formal Agile transformation programme that has been implemented through other organisations and customise it accordingly.
Step 6: You don't need a car if you can Uber
There are key technology enablers that must be part of your thinking for enabling agility, speed of delivery and value delivery: Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud. Be aware of the platforms and capabilities that these digital enablers have provided and how you can leverage them for lower cost, rapid development (prototype evolutions) that can help quickly prove a business concept with minimal investment in infrastructure. These mediums lend themselves to collaboration with partners and customers which in turn can help you drive innovation and align with market needs.
Look into the use of "multi-speed" IT (adopting different processes, team structures, and technologies to enable different IT supported areas such as "innovation" (what is wanted) versus "operational support" (what is in place). Service partners can then spin up short-term teams with essential skills to enable such initiatives and introduce fresh thinking.
As Dorothy famously said, "We're not in Kansas anymore", the landscape in technology continues to change dramatically and with it brings new dynamics that demand collaboration, innovation and agility to be successful. With IT being at the centre of this tornado, it's both a challenging and incredibly opportune time for leaders in this space.
The six steps discussed in this blog are how we at DVT open the conversation with some of our clients (collaborators) to ensure that investment in IT will secure both short-term and on-going success for their business.
Visualise the journey, choose your "friends" for the trip, and start your engines! Your business teams are already asking "Are we there yet?”
Sources and Recommended Reading
Gartner – Post Event Trip Report – Digital Maturity Benchmark Summary, 2014
Accenture "Driving an ambitious agenda to transform Accenture into a digital enterprise"
HBR "7 questions to ask before your next digital transformation", Barry Libert, Megan Beck, Yoram (Jerry) Wind, July 2016