It’s not the technology…stupid

The accelerated rate and introduction of new disruptive technologies is raising the stakes and increasing the pressure on CIOs to deliver more business value at an accelerated pace.

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As we began the New Year, industry prognosticators and research firms published their lists of major technology predictions and trends that could have a major impact on organizations in 2015.  We continued to hear about the growing impact of “big data”, the “Internet of things”, cloud computing, and the increasing impact of emerging technologies such as 3D printing, wearables and smart machines. 

My research and discussions with dozens of CIOs and line of business executives over the past year indicate that the strategic importance of IT and the role of the CIO continue to grow in importance.  Organizations are willing to invest more in technology; however they are expecting a significant increase in business results and at a much faster speed.  Time to value is a phrase that’s been repeated to me many times over.

While the potential of these new technologies and the capabilities they bring signify a massive opportunity to transform organizations, from a CIO perspective they represent increased complexity and pressure to deliver new capabilities at an accelerated pace.  CIOs face the challenge of how to assess, select and implement those technologies which might have a positive business impact while at the same time they optimize current services, maintain legacy systems and motivate their workforce. 

CIOs face several obstacles as they try to innovate and introduce new technologies into their organizations.  Many IT organizations continue to use a governance model and methodologies that worked fine in the past, but may not be flexible and interactive enough for today’s dynamic environment.

 Legacy IT organizational structures and operating models organized based on technology stacks often require multiple hand-offs and approvals and may rely serial development methodology like waterfall.  I am not espousing that adopting an agile development methodology across the enterprise will be a panacea, but am suggesting that CIOs should take a hard look at the culture of their organization, employee skill sets and operating model and ask some themselves some very tough questions.

In addition, the classic IT budgeting and capital approval process is inflexible and does not facilitate an environment of experimentation.  CFOs love innovation and new capabilities as long as IT finds a way to self-fund them.

In discussions with IT employees and business personnel on client engagements I consistently hear diametrically opposed versions of how IT is doing.  The CIO and his staff generally feel like they are doing a solid job while their business users are either very frustrated with IT and struggle to articulate the value IT is delivering.  Some of the comments I hear from the business are; “IT is too slow, too expensive or too bureaucratic”.  IT usually measures success based on hitting budget goals and project dates, while the business is looking for meaningful positive impact.  IT should not be measured by how good a job they do implementing technology, but by how those new capabilities enabled by the new technology drive positive business results. 

The IT organization is not the only one at fault for the unrealized benefits and missed expectations of technology investments. The business shares at least half of the blame.  Business users and customers are often not ready to adopt or leverage the new technology that IT is implementing.  The requisite change management, communication and process re-engineering required to gain the full benefits of a new technology platform or application is often ignored until it’s too late (usually after the new solution has been deployed).  Line of business executives need to consider their organizations ability to change, absorb and adopt new solutions.  Ironically, I’ve found on several occasions that the business cannot keep up with IT!

IT organizations also need to improve their communication, marketing and engagement skills and include their business partners at every step in the process.  Projects that are business led, or at a minimum jointly led by IT and the business with shared accountability and success metrics produce the best results. 

So as you think about the new and sexy technologies that your CEO and business leaders want deployed in 2015, before proceeding, consider the key human behavior and process elements required to realize success.

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