January Issue

It's Time for CIOs to Let Employees Play With Technology

Today, experimenting with new technologies beats gathering requirements into a big document. IT departments should switch from planning-and-deploying to buying-and-trying

Back in the day, technology was deployed only after a thorough "requirements analysis." We got buy-in from business sponsors based on the size and specificity of the formal requirements documents--even if the real requirements were still hiding somewhere in poorly understood business processes.

But we proceeded anyway. We all know how those kinds of projects turned out.

Today, requirements are just as often discovered as they were defined yesterday. Companies buy or rent technology to test how it might affect their business--before making large investments in requirements analyses. In fact, if a company takes a year or two to validate requirements, the technologies under consideration will likely be obsolete.

While there are still projects that demand wide, deep and painfully long requirements modeling, there are just as many that challenge the whole requirements-first/technology-second model. This is because potential technology solutions emerge fast, and technology is better out of the gate than it ever was. Plus, cloud delivery enables fast and cheap experimentation.

CIOs should organize teams to play with this "ready technology" as fast as it can be explored. CIOs should rethink how they find, assess and deploy technologies. Perhaps most importantly, CIOs should share the experimentation process with their business partners.

When iPads arrived, they could be found first in marketing departments and executive suites that bought a bunch of them to see what they could do. No requirements-gathering necessary. Sales and marketing teams then hired consultants to develop fast-and-cheap mobile apps. Then they went into the field to figure out what benefits those tablets could produce with fun, sometimes leave-behind, applications. Once they determined that iPads were beneficial, some of them went to their CIOs for suggestions and support--but many did not.

Similarly, how many business units opened their own sales management cloud accounts before their enterprise CIOs knew anything about what they were doing? Consumerized devices and cloud delivery have given new opportunities to "shadow IT." The shadows are now larger and darker than ever before: consumerized technology and cloud delivery make it easier to hide.

So CIOs should not be surprised by emerging technologies and their sometime clandestine infiltration into the business units. They should cooperate with business units that want to play with emerging technologies like biometrics, wearables, electronic payments, unstructured data analytics and deep learning. Companies will not fully understand the business potential of these and other emerging technologies until they experiment with them. It's time to buy and play, not plan and deploy.

The goal is to bring IT experimentation and adoption out of the shadows. CIOs need to lead this process as often as possible, but when a business unit gets there first, they should not start a governance war they cannot win. CIOs should--with wide smiles and supporting budgets-- offer their business partners three classic IT services: tests and demonstrations of technology, analysis of the business benefits and answers to questions about service delivery, cost and security.

Now go play with technology. It's more fun today than it ever was, and you'll meet friends you never knew you had, coming out of the shadows.

Steve Andriole is the Thomas G. Labrecque Professor of Business Technology at Villanova University's School of Business. He has served as a CIO, CTO and consultant to many large and small companies, and he is the author of the new book Ready Technology: Fast-Tracking New Business Technologies.

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