IT Focus Area: Strategy
October 24, 2014
Free IT Up to Create More Business Value
If you have ever renovated a home, chances are you worked with an entire team of experts: electricians, plumbers, carpenters, painters, and many others.
If you tried to do all the work yourself, you would be too busy focusing on the details to recognize opportunities for improvement or catch flaws in the overall design. These challenges and risks are even greater when we talk about managing and delivering IT services.
If you think about it, chief information officers (CIOs) or IT executives are the heads of a very large, complex household. If they try to have their hand in managing every aspect of IT directly, they have very little time left to think and act strategically.
It is tough to be a CIO or IT executive these days.
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There is a constant tug-of-war between providing strategic leadership and overseeing the many components of daily IT operations. When done wrong, the C-suite perceives IT executives as supporting operations with “keep the lights on” activities rather than strategic partners that help drive the business.
The changing IT marketplace has begun to shift the paradigm.
With the rise of IT-as-a-service (ITaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS), the CIO no longer has to take sole responsibility for providing all of today’s technology needs. The CIO can now become a broker that helps the business select technology that integrates well with current systems and present the business with optimal technology solutions (rather than being relegated to a tactical role).
When CIOs become IT brokers—pulling in a team of expert partners—instead of an IT provider or builder, they can be much more effective at driving change, enabling business transformation and consistently providing increased business value from the use of information technology.
The key is to free up your IT team so they can move from focusing on operational activities and taking care of “fires” every day—such as infrastructure management—to differentiating activities—such as analytics, mobility and merger and acquisition (M&A) integration—that result in a competitive advantage for your company.
Technology is changing faster than ever, and smart businesses achieve game-changing results when they are agile enough to quickly leverage new developments in the industry and new opportunities to use IT. As positive as this statement sounds, there is also a new challenge that IT leaders face: Success metrics have changed because the ability to do things differently also requires being measured differently.
Success used to be measured by tactical accomplishments—the amount of uptime the business experienced or the number of help tickets closed.
Speed is the new measure of success. For example:
How quickly can a business begin getting value out of an acquisition?
How quickly can the company open a new office?
How fast can it onboard a new customer or employee?
Good IT leaders listen and understand business’ long- and short-term goals, and then find the best technology solutions to help achieve them. IT brokers are able to act quickly because they are not bound to maintenance or support roles.
Meeting these goals does not remove the need to provide cost effective, consistent and efficient IT operational services. However, the broker model gives IT leaders the green light to source services based on the value they deliver. In other words, the model works best when the CIO finds partners to do jobs that don’t optimize the internal team’s value. Effective use of ITaaS where you take advantage of a managed services partner, IaaS, SaaS or select outsourcing services can go a long way toward freeing up key internal resources.
It is no longer an all-or-nothing proposition.
ITaaS can be configured in any number of combinations, whether your company needs staffing, infrastructure, software from the cloud or a data center colocation facility.
To make the most of a partnership, outline what you can strategically source and what needs to stay in-house. Be sure to differentiate between the establishment and oversight of standards, policies and processes and their day-to-day administration and implementation. Each of us is responsible for making sure our cars are serviced regularly, but very few of us still perform that service. Ultimate responsibility and accountability will always lie with the IT leadership team. Ultimately, the IT leadership team must retain stewardship of the assets that fall under their responsibility, regardless of how they are delivered.
Try to predict any potential roadblocks that will keep your plan from running smoothly, including implementation, sourcing, budgets, or legal issues. This is akin to reviewing the blueprints, pulling permits and knowing what inspections are required before you build the house. You should make sure you are fully aware of your environment and how various facets of sourced IT will impact it before you develop the relationship.
These steps help you focus on what you should and should not be doing internally without giving up control over those things that are most important. They provide you with a strategic sourcing model custom designed for your specific business.
The Right Fit
The right partner will make all the difference in ensuring that your IT team’s transition to broker from provider goes smoothly. It’s a cliché but it’s true that IT teams are being forced to do more with less these days and don’t have time for everything they need to accomplish. A partner, however, can be a cost-efficient way to augment your team.
When considering a partner, look for someone who has broad exposure and experience and can work as an extension of your team. A partner should get to know your team, be flexible on when you use them and should integrate into your processes. A partner should have a stable of experts they can call on at a moment’s notice, ensuring a specialist with deep knowledge to tackle your challenge rather than a generalist with only fleeting understanding.
When significant change hits, the right partnerships can help IT lead companies to tremendously successful outcomes.
A large insurance company, for example, secured one of the biggest retailers in the world as a customer and needed an IT upgrade to support the new business. Ultimately, changes ran the gamut from provisioning IT for expanded capacity to building two new data centers to provide the level of availability and resiliency this new client demanded.
The company approached a managed services partner who interviewed the business leads to figure out all the possible scenarios involving the data center. The company decided to build a facility that could scale along several potential growth models so it wouldn’t have to go back to the drawing board as the customer’s needs increased.
Together, the CIO and the partner developed a long-term growth plan that ensured the company would be able to keep up in a quickly changing world and fully take advantage of the tremendous opportunity this large customer presented.
The 21st Century CIO
Today’s IT leader is responsible for driving business through innovation, managing change, maintaining agility, and ensuring availability.
It is a full plate by any measure.
CIOs that start thinking like a broker rather than a provider or builder and establish strategic partnerships that can support their company identify new competitive advantages and accelerate business growth.
The most successful IT leaders today have time for meeting the new IT metrics. They have thoroughly examined where and how they can free up their IT teams. CIOs can talk best practices all day long. However, there are only so many hours in a day and only so many people on the staff to implement them.
The 21st century IT leader, broker, partner and innovator has the opportunity to build a strong internal IT organization. An IT organization that maintains respect of the business units because it focuses on the business needs and new opportunities rather than just putting out fires and maintaining daily IT operations. Decision making is based on today’s business drivers rather than incremental improvement to the way things have always been done.
When you steer your company toward a vibrant business strategy, you can create more value—for your company, for your IT organization, and for your own role.
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