One of the fundamental jobs of a leader is to paint an exciting, positive view of the future that connects to the emotional concerns of his staff. This task is particularly critical for CIOs now as the stress on their departments intensifies with the business’s hunger for IT services appearing to be bottomless even as it continues to stipulate that IT control its costs. Adding to the demands on the CIO’s staff is the growing technical sophistication of their internal business partners, intensified competition from external service providers and the increasing trend toward the commoditization of IT processes, jobs and software.
Mark Walton, former CNN chief White House correspondent, writes in his book, Generating Buy-In: Mastering the Language of Leadership, that “stories are the language of our mind” and that the stories that have the greatest impact—on our thinking, our emotions and, ultimately, our actions—are stories “that project a positive future.” The leader’s challenge is to “connect the dots between the future you want and the future your audience wants” by 1) being clear about what you want your audience to do, 2) describing the positive future you want your audience to see, 3) illustrating how that future will fulfill their needs, wants and goals, and 4) asking for commitment and first steps toward bringing about the future you want.
Last month in “The Worst Job in IT” (www.cio.com/050106), I challenged readers to begin crafting a story about how IT will exceed the expectations of the enterprise while ensuring the success and satisfaction of the IT staff. I truly believe that IT is entering a new stage of maturity where it will be easier for IT professionals to do their jobs without the fear, overload and confusion that exists today.
The Long and Winding Road to Alignment
IT has always been a difficult profession. At first, business partners were totally dependent on IT and there was in truth very little IT could deliver due to the limitations of the technology and IT’s necessary focus on delivering foundational transaction systems. Then, as PCs and client/server computing became prevalent, IT’s frustrated business partners tried to address their own needs through the use of “end user tools” without the coordination or involvement of IT. IT found itself either fighting for control of systems (and people) that had become enterprise critical or being held responsible for poorly performing “user” projects and systems. Then, as the promise of the Internet and fears of Y2K generated unprecedented demand, the IT budget and organization ballooned. Not coincidentally, systems such as ERP were implemented that either were not ready for prime time or ended up overwhelming the organization’s capabilities and finances. As a result, IT’s reputation within the organization suffered, and it was forced to retreat to try to figure out how to satisfy the business’s demands, often by finding efficiencies within core operating costs. But even during this retreat, the importance of managing IT as an enterprise asset and capability became obvious to every layer of the organization. Ultimately, this gave birth to healthy forms of interdependence (that is, governance, processes and roles) that mirrored practices found in other, more mature areas of the business.
In the future, the interdependency of IT and the business will be sorted out so that IT no longer is responsible for the delivery of IT while the business just sits on the sideline waiting to judge the outcome. In this future, IT will be accountable for ensuring that IT is done well; the business will be accountable for implementing the technology to improve business performance. I call this enabling IT. Enabling IT requires creating relationships, roles, processes and an infrastructure that helps the business satisfy its day-to-day needs without involving IT. This means that IT 1) facilitates appropriate decision making to protect the interests of the enterprise, 2) defines data, business services, architectural guidelines and technology standards to coordinate the activities of the enterprise, 3) develops enabling infrastructure, tools, processes and support resources, 4) educates and coaches users and provides resources so that the business can manage projects and change, determine necessary functionality, and develop and deploy systems, and 5) provides development and operational resources and services on demand—both staff and technology—in conjunction with external suppliers.
In the future, IT professionals will become innovation experts by combining technology savvy, business knowledge, management discipline and the ability to play well with others. Those with a heavier technical orientation will focus on defining architecture and designing and developing infrastructure and enabling platforms. Professionals with a strong business orientation will focus on collaborating with the business on strategy, governance, and project and service delivery. Individuals with stronger management discipline will specialize in overseeing technology development, service and operational delivery, resource management and risk management.
The Story You Tell
The enabling IT model will address the IT professional’s concerns about job security, the hierarchy of technical skills and the resources squeeze. It’s undeniably true that commodity IT jobs will be outsourced. But IT jobs and roles that touch on innovation will not be outsourced. They won’t be outsourced because they demand the ability to comprehend the connections among technology, data and business processes, and the ability to understand the connections between people and how work gets done within the organization. In this brave new world, IT’s influence within the company will increase. Paradoxically, by giving up control over technology delivery, IT will gain authority as it can no longer be blamed for being a bottleneck to technical innovation. In addition, with the business doing (and paying for) the day-to-day development effort, much of the variable demand will be external to the IT department, thereby allowing IT to plan its work and ensure adequate funding.
All this means that there will be an incredible demand for innovation experts, and it will only be satisfied if the talented professionals currently in place adopt lifelong learning as their mantra. Learning can occur on the job and, in some cases, in the classroom, but now more than ever IT professionals need to take a hard look in the mirror, assess their skill sets, and then reach out for the learning opportunities that will expand their capabilities. The projected slowdown in labor growth will play to the advantage of those professionals who possess innovation-expert-type skills. In the future, these people will be able to write their own tickets, personally, professionally and financially.
The future of IT in your organization (and your own future within your organization) depends on your ability to communicate this story to your staff and have this model embraced by your company. If your organization doesn’t understand already that today’s pain is for tomorrow’s gain, get busy writing your story. Doing so will ensure that IT’s potential will finally be realized and the IT staff will have the best jobs in the business.