15 characteristics of IT digital maturity

Gauging IT success is about triangulating value from different lenses and peeling through IT digital maturity from a variety of angles.

Nowadays, we have more computing power, abundant data and greater potential empowerment of the knowledge workforce than ever. Technology is pervasive and information is permeating into almost every corner of the business. Business initiatives today nearly always involve some form of technology implementation and information refinement.

IT organizational digital maturity is the measure of IT digital readiness and competency. Many think the new way of running the business is the management through Information Technological lens; leading organizations across the industrial sectors claim they are in the information management business. IT needs to move up its maturity from functioning to firm to delight, running full speed with less friction. Here is a set of characteristics of IT digital maturity.

1. Operational excellence

IT is the lubricant to a well-designed business system; IT has to provide stability and operational excellence to “keep the business lights on.” IT needs to take the wise steps in doing consolidation, modernization, automation, integration and optimization for improving its overall digital maturity. IT management should be in the continuous tuning mode to streamline processes and tighten coordination and collaboration with the business partners. That requires IT management to make a serious amount of positive communication whilst continuously looking for the cost-efficient replacement of unstable or outdated processes. The CIO should position and maintain the IT organization to ensure it addresses both "IT effectiveness" and "IT efficiency," to achieve operational excellence.

2. Digital proficiency

The business goals of IT are about leveraging information and technology to lower costs, improve operations and increase revenue. An IT organization with digital proficiency can devote more attention to what organizations really care about - leveraging information for gaining business insight and putting technology to business advantage. Businesses will be more successful when they realize that one of their greatest strengths will be their multifaceted digital proficiency to scale up and shift from “doing digital” to “being digital.” A digital IT organization with high digital proficiency plays a crucial role in building a high-responsive, high-intelligent and high-mature digital business by interpreting business issues into technology-enabled solutions and leveraging necessary resources to solve well-defined business problems effectively.

3. Innovativeness

To move up digital maturity, businesses are looking for IT to add new innovative methods for management of complexity, improving quality and driving digital transformation. The available digital technologies just make innovation easier to do now than in the past - less costly and more easily accessible. Innovation can be categorized as breakthrough innovation (push something to the new level), sustainable innovation (better version of products or services), efficiency innovation (process improvement), or “soft innovations” (communication or culture innovation). IT can drive all sort of innovation to improve business revenue growth and lift organizational maturity. There are few business units that are as deeply embedded into each corporate function as IT. Running innovative IT requires some kind of rethinking and reinventing the corporate processes and building the business capabilities for managing innovation systematically.

4. Simplexity

People are complex, business is complex and the world is complex. Complexity is one of the emerging digital characteristics in the digital era. Imagine the complexity that comes in due to these characteristics such as less structure, more rules and regulations, diversity, volatility, ambiguity, unpredictability, lack of linearity and increased flux, etc. There are necessary complexity and unnecessary complication.

In business, complexity both drives innovation and also hinders it. The science of IT management is to simplify unnecessary complexity, manage the full cycle of applications, retire legacy systems; reassess any systems that suck too much resource, energy, or require too much IT effort, and tighten coordination with vendors and partners, in order to improve organizational responsiveness and maturity. Generally speaking, simplexity rules the day because it reflects the business new normal, and brings flexibility, balance and business maturity.

5. Customer-centricity

The biggest challenge to business success is IT and the biggest challenge of IT is about understanding the business and customers’ expectations. Digital is the age of people-centricity. IT should shift its focus from inside-out operation driven to outside-in customer-centric for improving its digital maturity. Technology is being leveraged every day to enhance customer experiences with or without the use cases from an IT department.

In reality, if the IT department does not have the time, resources or authority to develop and deploy these initiatives, they will not be brought to the big table as a business partner or customer champion. Engaging and enchanting end customers via digital touch points and tailored experiences, as well as empowering internal users with efficient tools to improve their productivity and satisfaction, are vital for improving IT maturity.

6. Adaptability

Consider the digital organization as the self-organized but interlaced and hyper-connected ecosystem. Adaptability is the ability of people or systems adapting themselves smoothly and acting fast to changed circumstances. Digital means fast-paced changes, continuous disruptions, overwhelming information and shortened knowledge life cycle. How successfully the individual or the organization can handle such a digital new normal depends on how fast and capable they can adapt to changes and overcome upcoming challenges.

In the ever-changing digital dynamic, individually, people should develop adaptability through openness, be able to seek ways and means of adjusting their perspective and those around them. At the organizational level, self-adaptation is faster if made with the full involvement of people in organizational change, starting from relations between people, and improving the changeability of the entire business.

7. Flexibility

Unlike the closed mechanic system, digital organization is like the living system, spontaneously self-organizes, generates patterns, forms structures, initiates business activities and above all, creates novelty over time. Loose coupling makes it possible to change the component without affecting the entire system, as long as the structure and interface are kept stable. Develop the Lego-like proper module design architecture with internal processes broken into modular service components that have a standard open interface, to achieve strategic flexibility with reusability and process flow.

In today's "VUCA" digital new normal, never assume you know what the problem is and never think there is a short list of solutions you can pick from. The culture of flexibility advocated by effective leadership is about bringing out the best in others, improving quality thinking, exploring diverse viewpoints, fresh knowledge and multiple perspectives in order to gain an in-depth understanding of certain topics or specific problems that occur and develop a structural approach to overcome challenges.

8. Fit

People are the very purpose for change; they are often the weakest link in digital transformation as well. Organizational fit means more about growth mindset, value adding or behavioral norms. People need to be intentional about how they enter the role, focusing on understanding and respecting people, culture and history.

The failure to do this is one of the biggest causes of derailment and the perception of poor-fit. From the people management perspective, the organizational fit is the good balance of the “misfit” thinking and fitting attitude. “Fit” doesn't mean that everyone needs to have the same thought processes, the same personalities, the same preferences, or the same experiences. At the ultimate level, organizational fit means to well balance the “desired fit” qualities such as growth mindset, learning agility, positive attitude and accepted behavior, as well as “needed misfit” traits such as independent thinking and creativity. “Fit or misfit" is contextual.

At today’s digital new normal, culture fit means organizations should proactively seek different ideas and engage in healthy debating and critical thinking with diverse points of view. The disruption of IT will continue, and IT skill gap is the reality. IT professionals today need to develop both technical and business skills for keeping digital fit. It takes a preponderant importance in the coming years to make sustainable IT - business relationship and build a people-centric organization.

9. Speed

In traditional organizations, IT is perceived by the business as slow to change, because IT is often in the reactive mode, waiting for the business’s requests. To run a high mature digital organization, IT has to speed up as a digital catalyst by adapting to changes faster than the rest of organizations. More and more businesses expect the consumerization style responsiveness from IT, because digital dynamic is where the disruption threatens to tear down legacy systems.

To accelerate the speed, forward-thinking IT organization separates the exploitation of the existing methods and technologies from the exploration of new ways to do things by leveraging the emergent digital trends. IT needs to quickly and cost-effectively confirm that the corresponding changes work smoothly to move the business forward, fuel today’s fast business speed, boost employees’ productivity, reduce the cost and delight customers consistently. The goals to accelerate IT are to achieve strategic responsiveness and improve organizational flexibility.

10. Investment savvy

With increasing speed of changes and continuous disruptions, organizations have to become nimbler about updating technology and managing information effectively, in order to respond to changes promptly and meet the customers’ need timely. IT systems errors will cause revenue leakage and damage the business's reputation. It takes a strong CIO to convince management for maintaining that nimble state. From an IT investment perspective, advanced technologies are really good and more helpful to keep IT nimbler and drive the business demands.

IT efficiency and effectiveness is an ever-evolving state and sometimes it takes larger and not incremental investments to reach desired positions. IT needs to get the top leadership sponsorship, understanding, continuing investing and evolving for improving business competency. When the corporate organization invests in information technology resources, it entrusts the IT organization with the stewardship of that considerable investment and the responsibility of providing effective management and operation to bring up business value.

11. Design touch

Forward-looking businesses across vertical sectors claim they are in the information management business. The organizational design should be fine-tuned to enforce flexibility, keep information flow with faster speed and achieve organizational autonomy. A fluid digital business is solid enough to give some sort of form or meaning and open enough to its environment to allow business movement of people, ideas and information in and out seamlessly.

To leverage design thinking, you need to understand the company’s long-term goals, business identity or brand, and the industry realities such as competition or marketing position, etc. The good design supports the business strategy for building a people-centric company. Limited hierarchy works best in a creative environment in which the free flow of information and ideas, as well as their prompt implementation are the key element of accelerating digital transformation. Hence, fine-tune business teams or organizational structures so that they can best express this purpose and accountability.

12. Balance

 The impact of today’s emerging technologies, and their integration with other key business elements, seems to be more profound, especially given the concurrent ecosystem changes going on. IT has to strike the right balance of “old experience,” and ”new way to do things,” develops the next digital practices, not just gets stuck at the best practices, some of which have outdated in the digital era.

To be successful, IT leaders must support the existing environment by providing a reliable secure infrastructure and maintaining a balanced application portfolio, while deploying innovative value generated by business cost reduction and revenue growth initiatives. Technology enablement, regardless of the extent of digitization, is all about planning, funding, designing, building, operating, securing, optimizing and managing digitized data, documents, or messages. Digitizing business processes and striking the right balance of old and new, physical and virtual, local and global, have become even more critical to today’s organizational successes for the long term.

13. Quality

Quality Management is basically the fundamental purpose of serving customers and meeting or exceeding their expectations. The rest of them are the tools, which can be used as the situation warrants. Without human interactions, quality is not possible. As a degree of quality is in everything people do and experience, quality management is to help them in doing what they are doing better, easier and faster.

What’s required is about clarifying the purpose and engaging all the people involved in working together as a team to excel in the delivery of quality products, services, or solutions to delight customers consistently. Quality management" is like "change management" in that both appear to be an oxymoron, in which quality and change = process-in motion and management = stabilization and control. Quality management needs to be a cross-functional collaborative effort, not something one team does alone in a corner, in order to improve the entire digital business quality and maturity.

14. Autonomy

The high degree of autonomy is the symbol of digital maturity. Running a self-autonomous organization is to improve business efficiency, effectiveness, responsiveness and maturity. Self-organizing is a natural human activity, it’s also about empowerment and trust. It’s about how to build work atmosphere to encourage creativity, autonomy and mastery.

With autonomy, the team organizes by itself on how it will address the problem that has been presented to it. The business keeps processes transparent; the manager does not micromanage but inspects and keeps track of what the team is doing. To put another way, the digital management focuses on “why,” and “what,” not “how.” You give the team freedom to do things in their own way, figure out alternative solutions and deliver the best outcome. Autonomy stimulates creativity. It can be achieved via system automation, team self-management and interdisciplinary digital practices. The business is in the state of flow and the organization reaches the high level of maturity effortlessly.

15. Resilience

With high velocity, unprecedented uncertainty and fierce competitions, organizations today must be resilient to survive through continuous digital disruptions. More often than not, IT failure can cause the fatal failure of the entire business, and IT success will catalyze their organizational success from a long-term strategic perspective. Thus, the business expects IT organization to play a critical role in governance and risk management, to ensure rigorous compliance with regulatory requirements and move up business maturity from risk mitigation to risk intelligence, in order to run a high mature digital business flawlessly.

Being resilient is about failing fast, failing cheaper and failing forward, also recovering promptly. IT organizations, which are flexible to accommodate rapidly changing business strategies and requirement, are able to mitigate business risks and improve the overall organizational risk management effectiveness and intelligence.

The digital world is so technology-driven and information-intensive; IT needs will only expand, and most likely, expand hyperbolically. The journey of improving business maturity is more evolutionary than revolutionary. It is certainly critical to put the stronger emphasis on empowering people, the source of knowledge, innovation, adaptation and customer centricity.

Gauging IT success is about triangulating value from different lenses and peeling through IT digital maturity from a variety of angles. The priority of digital CIOs is to genuinely position IT as an integral and inseparable part of the business. The success of IT is not for its own sake, but to ensure the entire business success for the long term.

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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