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Technology and Business Conscience Collision
By Winston Benedict, CIO, Dentsu Aegis Network ANZ
New capabilities and technology hit the market every day. The velocity of innovation has created the need for continuous adaptation by our organizations to fully capitalize on these developments. Broadly speaking, I am referring to the constantly evolving trends around: Cloud (IaaS, PaaS, iNaaS specifically), Consumerization of Technology, Dev/Ops as a core business capability, and Data Centricity.
The velocity and impact of these trends bring about and accelerate the convergence of business and technology in our organizations.
By convergence, I mean technology, traditionally managed by the CIO/CTOs, becoming enmeshed with business functions, traditionally managed by the CFO/COO/CMO. This convergence is erasing the line between technologists and business operators.
Technologists are unable to deliver business outcomes without becoming better business operators. Correspondingly, business operators who lack understanding of the technology are no longer able to deliver the CEO agenda of making money, saving money and efficient compliance.
In terms of tangible strategies and actions to support this new environment, I suggest the following:
1. Failure is an option—just do it quickly
2. Establish an Executive Technology Board of Directors
3. Focus relentlessly on business outcomes
4. Embed technology staff into business
5. Formalize innovation as a capability
6. Enable and facilitate
Failure is an option
This is the growing mantra of progressive technology innovators. It is also a central rationale of Agile methods. The primary point is about being in constant motion and becoming comfortable making decisions with less than perfect information. Perfect information only occurs with hindsight. Easy to say, hard to accept. This would be the first aspect since these other suggestions are subject to the do, fail, learn, and try again iterations.
Establish a Technology Board of Directors
Comprised of C-suite and President level stakeholders across your business, it formalizes ownership and accountability for technology decisions and outcomes.
We must move from controlling to enabling, from doing to facilitating, and from delivering technology to delivering business outcomes
This convergence of technology and business leadership is the start of the alignment of technology to business goals and people to deliver the required outcomes. Decisions made by this group form the basis for a joint team which is fully accountable to one set of common (business) outcomes in terms of technology strategy, portfolio management, and benefits realization methods.
Focus relentlessly on understanding and delivering business outcomes
Technology does not deliver outcomes, people using relevant technology effectively deliver outcomes. Critical to accomplishing these outcomes is being very crisp in linking technology to business outcomes. You need to coach the business operators on technology enablers in developing a business case. Conversely, they have to coach us on what outcomes they must achieve, and how the technology enablers deliver the outcomes. Anything less than committing the outcomes to revised operating budgets or revenue targets puts delivery of the outcomes at risk, since the failure to commit indicates a gap in understanding of how the enablers deliver results.
After an initiative is delivered, go back and confirm if savings (or revenue) were achieved. If we exercised our “failure is an option” strategy, we pull the joint team back together and address the process, people, or technology issues that prevented the achievement of the goal.
Embed technology staff in business
Best way to learn a new language is immersion. Also, standard practice in customer relationship management is to understand your customer, suggest the re-distribution of your support staff into your businesses or establish an open “Genius Bar” that is consumer friendly to approach. Firstly, the technologist will gain first-hand knowledge of how technology is used (or, just as often, misused). Secondly, it will enable the up-skilling of talent and the business more broadly on how to use technology. Lastly, it enables the business to work smarter and reduces the barriers in getting technology to work for the business.
Formalize innovation as a capability
Innovation while starting organically, has to be nurtured. It can be said that many businesses currently ask folks to innovate, yet allow little time for it or only recognize the “wins”. Innovation is about experimentation and learning. As such, formalize opportunities for innovation via sponsored “hack-a-thons” or fund innovation proposals . Budget allowing, , formalize an Innovation Office focused on fielding/vetting ideas, providing “grants” to pursue those ideas, mentor their development, connect the required skills into teams to deliver, monitor and share new trends. Allow anyone to participate, but provide some frameworks to help them mature and develop their ideas. Have fun.
Enable and Facilitate
CIOs are controlling less of the technology spend as the business is controlling more of it. Our job becomes less of “making the decision” to “coaching the decision making”. We teach our executives key considerations (security, integration, privacy). We enable them with governance, enterprise agreements, architectures that allow for flexibility. We are now co-drivers.
Going forward, we must overhaul our function and our role in the organization to nimbly manage this convergence. We will need to move from controlling to enabling, from doing to facilitating, and from technology to business outcome delivery. Our ability to manage the resultant bi-model environment will define success.