by Diana Bersohn

It is time for CIOs to shift gears to multi-speed IT

Oct 29, 2015
CIOIT GovernanceIT Strategy

It is not practical to work as quickly as possible to accommodate all business needs at the same speed, with the same priority. The answer requires multi-speed capabilities that allow you to shift gears at the right time to achieve the best possible outcome. But some CIOs are more ready than others to manage this multi-speed IT environment.

multiple speed it
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It has been a long time since IT has operated at only one speed to manage the diverse demands of the business. Not long ago many IT organizations began operating in two speeds when leaders recognized the need for greater speed and agility to keep pace with the evolving digital landscape. Now, CIOs must balance a wide range of pressures, from keeping the lights on to collaborating with peers across the business to take advantage of digital’s fast-moving influence while also establishing new markets and revenue streams.

It is impossible and impractical to work as quickly as possible to accommodate all business needs at the same speed, with the same priority, let alone balance all the interface requirements of external providers that could comprise your technology ecosystem. The answer requires multi-speed capabilities that allow you to shift gears at the right time to achieve the best possible outcome, depending on the needs of the business.

Some CIOs are more ready than others to manage the multi-speed IT environment. Seventy-one percent of the executives we surveyed expressed confidence that they or their IT organization could operate and simultaneously support multiple business objectives, or “multi-speed IT.” However, 81 percent of executives stated that most IT organizations do not know how to operate effectively while supporting multiple objectives at the same time. CIOs need to create an agile, multi-speed operating model to enable their organizations to be competitive.

Keeping up with consumption

So how does a CIO decide where to focus a finite amount of time, talent and investment when they are being pulled in multiple directions? Most importantly, CIOs must match the speed of technology to the speed at which the business needs to consume it.

While everyone wants to move at full speed, the CIO plays a critical role in matching the architectural environment to the business velocity, within the constraints of the current operating model. Those who master multi-speed IT can greatly contribute to the business’ overall performance.

CIOs are recognizing that they need to juggle orienting IT to maintain reliable legacy systems while also quenching the organization’s thirst for innovation. Of the C-level executives we surveyed in a 2015 Accenture Strategy survey of more than 900 executives around the world, 81 percent said the IT organization has reached a fork inthe road, and the choice before them is whether they will accelerate the digital agenda or move out of the passing lane to allow others in the organization to lead. Either way, 88 percent of executives believe that the IT organization needs to broaden its scope and keep pace with evolving needs of the business.

multi speed it

To implement a robust multi-speed IT capability, these are the areas to focus on.

Multi-speed operating model. For most companies, adopting multi-speed IT requires changes to their operating model. To support a digital business, IT must be more elastic and able to innovate quickly with speed-to-market capabilities. The CIO needs to be able to easily change speeds while governing aflexible operating model and simultaneously managing risk and pursuing opportunities.

Delivery methods are a key lever for multispeed IT. Agile and iterative methods can support faster-changing user experiences and digital capabilities, while traditional waterfall methods are still relevant to core systems and legacy applications. DevOps, a software method that emphasizes communication, collaboration, integration, automation and cooperation with other IT professionals, is another example of the changes required in operating models to enable faster delivery.

We recently worked with a global bank to help it manage diverse business and customer needs, managing risk and meeting rapidly evolving demands for new products and customer experiences. Together, we created a multi-speed operating model and roadmap that allows them to deliver new business capabilities more quickly and provides an environment where innovation is embedded throughout the organization.

Governance. Multi-speed IT requires a governance model that streamlines prioritization of business demands. The prioritization process needs to occur on a more frequent basis than most companies’ typical annual cycle.

According to our survey, 62 percent of respondents said their IT organization has different governance models in place to support their companies’ various business operations or initiatives, and more than one-third of the respondents said they adjust their governance models to fit the need. Governance models must help to prioritize usage of the right mode of operations to deliver value at the right time.

Architecture. The technology landscape should be segmented to support multiple speeds reflecting different business consumption and the pace of change. Some areas may require higher speeds. By decoupling customer-facing channels from legacy architecture, a business can achieve greater agility and reduce cost pressures.

Building an API, the application programming interface, layer will also expose core data to faster-moving digital channels and ecosystem partners. As the lines between an organization and its ecosystem partners blur, access to core data is critical to enabling innovation.

Organization. New skills are required to support the multi-speed agenda. Traditional operations are often siloed with distinct roles. In the multispeed world, teams should be skilled in a range of methods, including iterfall and agile. Staff should understand tools and techniques like DevOps, and API.

To find such a diverse mix of skills, new ways for attracting talent are needed. Your future talent pool may include more contractors, as well as newer sources, such as crowdsourcing and talent swaps. Blended roles will emerge, with IT workers requiring technical, business and digital skills along with superior communication and collaboration skills.

Ultimately, CIOs need to shape and manage an IT organization that can deliver multi-speed IT, using multiple governance models and processes that allow them to prioritize business demand and allocate the right mode of IT operations to meet the needs of the business. As CIOs move in this direction, they play an integral part in making sure the business achieves its objectives.

Nicholas Bayley, our guest co-author, is a managing director in Accenture Technology Strategy.