A new era of IT transformation

On the back of technology issues such as Big Data and Cloud computing, IT organisations are entering a new era of transformation in an attempt to drive down non-discretionary costs and free up funds to enable new business initiatives. For many senior IT executives, this means devising alternative organisational models, launching shared-services initiatives and, often, adopting new kinds of IT applications and products.

These were just some of the thoughts advanced by the CIOs who attended CIO magazine’s roundtable discussion on the topic of “IT Transformation”, held at Neil Perry’s celebrated Rockpool restaurant in Sydney on November 22.

The CIOs who took part in the roundtable came from sectors as diverse as education, health, law and retail, but they agreed almost universally that most core IT transformations have been completed and it is unlikely we’ll see similarly large-scale projects anytime soon; they are simply too big, complex and difficult to do in today’s fast-moving business landscape. Instead, IT needs to assume its place as a true partner to the business and address opportunities and areas of concern in a quick and nimble fashion.

“IT transformation has always occurred but I do not think that there has been such a massive change as that of the past two years,” said Ross Horlyck, director of infrastructure and sustainability at the Sydney International Convention and Exhibition Centre. “The advent of tablet devices and Cloud services has created a large number of decisions that have to be made that will fundamentally change the way in which IT is delivered and supported. The make-up of the skills required and the interaction with end users will change, and if a business cannot move with the times then it will be at a disadvantage.”

Goodbye to ‘big bang’ projects

Rather than a 'big bang' approach, many IT organisations are looking at transformation in terms of workloads, which in turn influences decisions around staffing and sourcing methods. The right infrastructure can translate into actionable projects measured against goals, such as improving customer service and revenue. This is certainly true for Dr Vladas Leonas, CIO of the NSW Transport Construction Authority (TCA), the organisation which has been responsible for the delivery of some of the largest transport infrastructure projects in NSW. “I was really interested in the topic as TCA is in the process of transitioning its projects and functions to the Transport Projects Division of Transport for New South Wales,” said Leonas.

Over the past six years, TCA has delivered 14 rail infrastructure projects, as well as nine Rail Clearways projects and 20 high-quality commuter car parks. “The word that comes to my mind — and this is based on a number of transformations that I have been a part of in the past — is ‘unpredictability’,” says Leonas. “No matter how well one plans, there are always unexpected things that happen, which means that one needs to plan for unexpected, be flexible and seek solutions that are ‘outside the square’. More often than not, initial IT transformation becomes just a catalyst for the next evolutionary — or sometimes revolutionary — steps.”

Building business trust

Not surprisingly, many CIOs felt achieving success in the new era of IT transformation hinges on building effective trust between IT and the business. “I had hopes the roundtable event would provide an opportunity to hear of others experience in helping better manage IT-influenced business change,” said Shane Finn, director applications and architecture at medical device manufacturer ResMed, which develops and sells products to treat a variety of sleeping disorders in more than 70 countries around the world.

We need to give up some power and educate and trust the end users across the business at all levels

“I confess a little surprise that so many CIOs remain trapped in ‘service mode’ and have not been able to successfully raise their groups’ relevance to the business as a partner.

“A few of the conversations spoke to the higher level issues of true organisation capability and appropriateness of fit. Many, however, remain dealing with the highly emotive, but to my mind less significant, issues of BYOD [bring your own device] and the like. If I were to strike a probably unfair analogy it is a bit like fiddling while Rome burns,” said Finn.

Melanie Kneale, chief operating and technology officer at NIB Health Funds, agreed, but only up to a point.

“This is a particular area of focus for us and it was comforting and helpful to share ideas on how we can get greater business engagement in the IT transformation,” said Kneale. “IT belongs to the business; it’s not there in its own right, so the business needs to help drive the outcome it wants.”

Leonas from NSW TCA took a more philosophic view. “Trust is built on a track record,” he said. “There cannot be trust if service delivery is bad or unstable and there is no positive trend. The same is true in the projects space. In my view, it is no different to building — and most importantly maintaining — a friendship. You do the right thing by your friend, the business, and if you demonstrate professionalism, which is an extremely multifaceted thing, you develop and maintain trust.”

Weighing the risks

Another key topic of discussion for the CIOs who attended the roundtable was the perennial IT goal of improving productivity while streamlining IT delivery and costs. As most of the CIOs noted, these are worthy and achievable goals, but they come with their own set hazards.

iPads are very fashionable and loved by a lot of people – but the real question is, what business problem are they going to solve?

“Removing the mundane process from the business IT area releases potential development/innovation time for the business and hopefully helps retain staff,” said Horlyck. “We have lots of options and opportunities if we can leverage the latest technology developments — as long as we are willing to take a certain amount of risk.”

“It was really good to see people looking at productivity from a truly business perspective,” said Leonas. “It’s not a gadget or technology per se that does it – it’s about how use of this gadget or technology improves end-to-end productivity, or at least productivity of one or more business processes.”

“Yes, iPads are very fashionable and loved by a lot of people – but the real question is, what business problem are they going to solve?” said Leonas, but he was quick to point out that he isn’t against iPads — the TCA uses a number of them.

“There are a number of challenges that have not been resolved in the new way of working,” said Horlyck. “In all circumstances there are the early adopters jumping in boots and all whilst others are not entering into the conversation because of business risk. It would seem like that the gap in which direction to head between the different sectors is widening and a decision now can have a major impact on the business and its reputation in the future.

“It would seem that the IT professional have a lot of unlearning to do to embrace the brave new world. We need to give up some power and educate and trust the end users across the business at all levels. The question is: Can we wait until all the answers are known and can we develop fast enough to make IT relevant in our organisations?”

General Manager for EMC Australia and New Zealand, Alister Dias, said it was an exciting time for the industry.

"We find our customers are transforming all the traditional layers of IT, cutting operational costs and improving agility," he said. "It’s interesting to see how they are altering their budget mix, spending more on new projects and innovation, all while reducing risk.”

This editorial was sponsored by EMC

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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