H. James Dallas is the recently-retired senior vice president of quality, operations, and IT at Medtronic, the world's largest medical technology company. In that position, and in the multiple leadership roles he's had across his career, Dallas learned that delivering technology is the easy part.
"The organizational, business process, and data changes were far harder than the technical ones,” Dallas told me when I interviewed him. “I’ve always embraced the philosophy that if I waited until the business units asked me to deliver something, it would be too late. IT can’t be viewed as the bottleneck. The question we should be answering is, ‘What are the strategic opportunities for technology?’ And: ‘How can IT either help or get out of the way?’”
In my inaugural CIO blog post, I introduced six different archetypes that categorize IT behavior preferences. The pinnacle is what I call “IT Everywhere”— whereby technology solutions are developed and owned by the business areas that use them, with infrastructure largely outsourced to the cloud. A thin layer of program management oversees procurement, contract, vendor and program management.
CEOs are intrigued by the idea of IT Everywhere. After all, why not release technology into the hands of the organizations that have the requirements, letting them define functionality, choose the solutions, and manage and use the resulting applications, thus freeing up IT resources and saving money in the bargain?
Unfortunately, the managers who find IT Everywhere the most compelling are often those who are the least ready to take it on. Embracing IT Everywhere implies a certain level of self-awareness. Your company isn’t ready for IT Everywhere unless it:
- Has already established a rich partner network that includes cloud providers, management consultants, and systems integrators that can work both independently and together.
- Is willing to shed rigid business processes in favor of more flexible sourcing of technology and skills. This means relinquishing approved vendor lists, strict procurement processes, and entrenched hierarchies, and allowing business units to nurture internal and external partnerships that best meet their individual needs.
- Designates a thin layer of oversight that supports business units in creating service-level agreements, optimizing vendor pricing, refining contract terms, and tracking development. This could take the form of a governance body—call it IT if you want—or it might simply function as sanctioned board that alleviates operational tasks without involvement in day-to-day delivery.
- Can tolerate some overlap and duplication. After all, duplication of systems, applications, business processes, and data exists today even within centralized IT. IT Everywhere accepts some level of duplication as an inevitability, sanctioning governance processes in order to minimize it.
Ironically, companies on the road to IT Everywhere typically have established IT organizations with solid reputations and loose, non-hierarchical structures. Their leaders act as trusted advisors during the transition to IT Everywhere. Along the way they solidify partnerships, research emerging technologies, vet cloud solutions, and share their data. They replace hierarchical organizations with loose and dynamic networks of employees. Ironically in so doing they and their staffs become vital to the ongoing success of the IT Everywhere model.
Dallas reflects on his role upending traditional organizational structures. “I never had a problem with shadow IT,” he says, smiling. “As long as I was the one casting the shadow.”
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