CIOaaS? How IT partners must now have the flexibility of a yoga master

Your IT partner needs to be flexible in how it advises, designs and delivers IT services.

man sitting on desk doing yoga and meditating
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"We need an IT supplier with the flexibility of a yoga master!"

This is what a prospective client told me recently and it chimed with me as my wife had been taking yoga classes. The client was right, with the same ease with which I watch my wife move from a standing forward fold into a downward dog, IT providers must now transition as smoothly between what their customer wanted yesterday and what that customer's business needs today.

This is a reality that many of us grasped years back, but now this elasticity must go beyond flexible budgeting options, software and platform design or methodology.

For instance, a client recently benefitted from a “virtual CIO,” CIO-level IT advisory services we provided.

This organisation, which is growing so rapidly that I confidently predict it will have someone in this role within five years, can't currently justify a CIO on the payroll. However, listening to their needs, it was clear that they temporarily required CIO-level talent to yield the greatest return from their IT. So maybe we should have invented CIOaaS – CIO as a service? It’s a thought?

To be clear, CIOaaS, or a so-called virtual CIO, wasn't a service offer that we had ready to roll out "off the shelf." It was, however, a capability that we could easily provide at an affordable price. More importantly, it was exactly in harmony with the business needs of the client both in terms of service and budget. It's win-win too; by operating this way, a stronger relationship has developed. What could have been a highly successful buyer/provider arrangement has naturally evolved into an authentic partnership. 

Flexibility doesn't stop there though.

Within this virtual CIO concept, for instance, there would be some clients or times where a light approach was needed with objective, unbiased opinion and advice being the main deliverable. Other times, we would provide a full strategic CIO service, steering the board, managing large-scale complex networks and mapping out infrastructure.

And that's how it has to work. It has to be visceral.

What's your product?

One of my friends works for an IT firm that is candidly struggling with this. Their business model is based on marrying customer needs on "best fit" basis with existing solutions within (what my friend calls) their "product catalogue." Rather than service delivery that evolves with the client need, they usually take a "rip out and replace" approach when those solutions are overtaken by new technology. It's a model that has worked really well for them for about two decades, but client requirements are now evolving faster than the technology in their arsenal so, as he put it: "When customers' needs are changing quicker than the weather, what do you put in your catalogue?"

The answer simply is flexibility. That's your product. That's what you sell.

In IT partnerships, this flexibility cannot be faked; the days of pretending to really listen to your customer's IT requirements whilst racking your brains to figure which of the products you sell fits best are long gone. An intuitive talent for understanding the client's need is what will separate the IT partners from the IT resellers.

Especially as the catalysts for those business need changes have become increasingly diverse. For years, by far the main drivers of change in IT requirements were business growth or new business strategy. Obviously, both are still key, but more and more we are seeing unpredictable budgets, changes in regulation and legislation, changing employee, customer or end-user needs, erratic markets, technology development, unforeseen crises, globalization, competitor activity and more cited as drivers of IT change. 

Rigidly trying to stick to your IT plans in this climate is not only a fool's errand on the face of it, drilling down deeper, it can be an actual obstacle to innovation and growth. The cloud is evolving at a faster pace than the internet at its conception, and bring your own devices (BYOD) and mobile technologies have revolutionised working practices and potential.

Your IT partner needs to be equally flexible in how it advises, designs and delivers IT services.

SaaS (software), PMaaS (project management), PaaS (platform) are innovations that have positively affected business results delivered by IT. In the next era of IT partnerships, we may need to invent something like FaaS – flexibility as a service – as that could be just as impactful.

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