by Lou Markstrom

Trying to build a better IT organisation? Alignment is out, anticipation is in

Jun 06, 2018
Education IndustryRisk Management

What sets high performing IT organisations apart from the rest? It could very well be their ability to anticipate. The days of IT thinking it needs to ‘align’ with the organisation are over.

IT is the organisation. Alignment is out, anticipation is in. With anticipation, IT can go from ‘supplying the business’, to ‘we are the business’ to ‘leading the business.’

So, why is anticipation important? According to William Confalonieri, chief information officer at Deakin University, IT adopting an ‘us and them’ mentality is wrong.

“We are on the same team and must work side-by-side to be successful,” he said. “The idea of separating business from digital strategy is wrong. In the current landscape we are operating in, the ability to change rapidly is not enough.”

“We must be able to match the pace of change in our market and this change is no longer linear; it’s exponential and there is no way we can react to all of it. We must watch for signals and small signs of evidence; work on the future before it arrives,” said Confalonieri.

Confalonieri leads the university’s IT group, which is delivering the Deakin Digital Plan, a program running through to 2020. Innovations that have come out of this initiative have included Deakin Genie, an AI digital assistant for students; and DeakinAR, which is providing augmented reality solutions.

Meanwhile, Bobby Lehane, chief executive officer at CHU Underwriting Services (formerly Zurich Financial Services where he was previously chief information officer), said the competitive advantage is gained in the way an organisation engages with its customers through digital platforms.

“Technology is driving the business and is a business differentiator like never before,” said Lehane. “We need to be strategic and identify these opportunities in advance. It’s the ‘steroids of the business,’” he said.

So how do you foster ‘anticipation’ across your teams?

1. Create a digital lab

Confalonieri and Lehane stressed the necessity of building a digital lab, a place to experiment with new technology and explore how it can impact the business. Tech execs should understand that most of these initiatives will not proceed but the ones that do, often become projects that have a significant impact.

2. Be bold with your hypothesis

Transformation comes from exponential, not incremental growth. This is a result of thinking big. Think of the famous quote, believed to have been said by German Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Boldness has power, magic, and genius in it.

3. Fail fast

Creating a ‘forgiving environment’ is crucial when creating digital solutions, said Lehane. The culture must empower people so that they are willing to try and that they are allowed to fail. And when it comes to failing, Lehane and Confalonieri agreed that companies need to fail fast, learn and progress.

4. Share and acknowledge successes

Successes create motivation to push boundaries and create a positive cycle of continuous anticipation, said Confalonieri. Make sure to communicate and share successes with your team on a regular basis, he said.

5. Speak and think as a ‘profit and loss’ team

Lehane stressed that IT must think from ‘profit and loss’ perspective and not just as a supplier of standard technology.

“We must communicate as digital professionals which means we look, explain and strategise from how “we are driving the future needs of the business,” he said.

6. Introduce expertise from the digital world to the business

Digital transformations are taking place across many industries and IT chiefs should keep abreast of all this activity and bring insights and expertise into their own businesses, said Lehane.

Confalonieri adds: “The waves of change will get bigger, the core layers of many industries are being altered and we’ve haven’t seen anything yet!”

7. Change your book on strategic planning

Strategic planning can no longer be done from a linear perspective. The future plan can no longer be based on a linear projection of the past; it must now be fluid and anticipatory, said Confalonieri.

8. Shift from “rock solid” production mindset

The mindset of ‘rock solid’ production that had us become a credible and reliable IT supplier is not the same mindset that will have us become an anticipator, said Lehane.

“When need to maintain that attitude when delivering our fundamental foundation but not when looking at how we drive and lead the future of our enterprises,” he said.

Succeeding as an ‘anticipator’

Lehane said his standout success as an anticipator was turning around a ‘shrinking and declining’ organisation to one that was awarded the ANZIIF Underwriting Agency of the Year in 2017. It was a real validation of everything the organisation had done to position itself for the future, he said.

Confalonieri said his biggest achievement was not the awards that Deakin has won but rather observing his team developing a credo that ‘we can do anything without being a giant of technology’, and the belief that anyone can make a difference in the organisation.

Lehane and Confalonieri agreed that fostering anticipation is all about culture and people. Staff must be encouraged to be innovative and entrepreneurial and think about how they can make a difference to the business.

Lou Markstrom is the co-author of Unleashing the Power of IT: Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together, published by Wiley as part of its CIO series. Over the past 25 years, he has worked with over 35,000 people to create high performance organisations, teams and individuals.