IT’s latest survival skill: Embracing risk

In today’s digital business world, IT has to stop playing it safe, as you can’t innovate without taking some risks. Still most IT professionals remain deeply risk-averse.

IT’s latest survival skill: Embracing risk
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If you’ve spent your career in IT, you’ve probably gotten really good at making sure nothing goes wrong. Outages are unacceptable, even if they’re only a few seconds long. Cybersecurity is a constant worry. Success is measured in reliability and availability. Your most important skill is anticipating issues and fixing them before they occur.

There’s just one problem. In this time of rapidly changing technology and upstart industry disruptors, making risk avoidance your top priority will only help you get left behind. You can’t play it safe, because there’s no such thing as safe. In today’s digital business world, IT leaders must accept and even embrace a certain amount of uncertainty and risk. Even more challenging, they must help the people who work for them embrace it as well.

“Risk is always relative,” says Scott Buchholz, CTO of Deloitte Consulting’s government practice. “Getting out of bed in the morning and taking a shower is taking a risk. But when we talk about risk in IT, what we sometimes mean is doing things that have a higher than normal chance of failure. And the reason that’s important is that technology is changing very quickly and there are fewer and fewer people who understand all the implications. Being able to handle risk becomes increasingly important.”

Taking risks and sometimes accepting failure is also a necessary aspect of innovation and digital transformation. C-suite executives know this, and they also know that risk-taking may not be in IT’s DNA. This is why many organizations separate innovative and riskier initiatives from traditional IT, handing them off to a chief innovation officer or chief digital officer instead.

But that’s the wrong approach, says Bob Worrall, CIO of Juniper Networks. “It’s a cop-out from two different perspectives,” he says. “First, I would venture to say that if you asked our C-level staff who our chief innovation officer is, they would answer that every top executive is a chief innovation officer; identifying a single person who can lead innovation across the whole company is a crazy notion.”

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