Doing better with less

Doing better with less

It’s not about doing more with less, but rather doing ‘better with less’ for CIOs in the coming year.

“It’s not about doing more with less, but rather doing ‘better with less’,” notes John Brand, research director for IT industry analyst firm Hydrasight, on the key issue facing CIOs in the coming year. His comments stem from the results of Hydrasight surveys among CIOs across Australia and New Zealand completed in late 2008, in which CIOs shared their perception on their roles, where they are heading in the next 12 months and their barriers to success.

Regardless of which view CIOs have of the economic impact of 2009, a focus on “fault-less IT operations” is going to be the most common theme,” says Brand. In the past while talks were about IT operational excellence, the businesses’ expectations of technology have superseded the ability for most enterprise IT operations to deliver on it.

That is because contemporary global brands for technology including Google, Facebook and MSN, have given businesses an unrealistic expectation of what can be achieved with enterprise information technology. When their experience is so good in the public online world, they tend to forget the enormous resources that go into providing these services. The average corporate or government organisation has a fraction of the resources available to them, but are expected to deliver comparable services, says Brand.

The results of the Hydrasight surveys indicate CIOs see themselves as providing vision and technology strategy to the business. Brand points out, however, that while there was a clear trend from CIOs to want to become more strategic in their organisations, there is little to no evidence this is how the business views them.

“In fact, we expect the increasing pressure will be put on CIOs during 2009 to prove their strategic importance to the business, not just relying on communicating more effectively about it.”

For 2009, Hydrasight expects the majority of CIOs will be pushed to their operational limits with a combination of budget cuts, operational restructuring, and ever-increasing business expectations for game-changing innovation and information systems-led business transformation.

“Successful CIOs are likely to be those that can leverage what they have already achieved over the last few years, by creating a variable cost structure that is able to scale both up and down with changing business demands,” says Brand.

“The next few years will be crucial for CIOs and will separate those who truly have a vision from those who have become hindered by the legacy of the previous decades. CIOs must realise that the majority of larger organisations now play in a global economy and competitors often have high degrees of maturity in IT efficiency and innovation.”

An interesting issue Hydrasight noticed in the current economic slowdown is the delayed response for CIOs to be forced or choose to cutback at the earliest hint of a market downturn.

“Even though the economic downturn was being talked about almost a year ago, we saw very few project cutbacks, cancellations, or downsizing,” notes Brand. “We did notice larger projects being put on-hold with constraints on resources and slightly less aggressive rollout strategies, but we didn’t encounter the major cutting back until relatively recently. It seems people were nervous, but not entirely convinced about the potential impact this downturn might have. Now we see more of a polarisation of views, with some seeing it as an opportunity and others viewing it as ‘treacherous waters’.”

Another concern for CIOs was managing business expectations of the delivery of technology. To this, Hydrasight recommends two strategies:

Say yes more often in order to say no: The (perceived) leading IT organisations rarely say ‘no’ to emerging business requirements or initiatives, notes Hydrasight. Instead, they actively work with the business to highlight costs, risks and implications until the decision is clear whether the requirement is valid, reasonable, workable or otherwise.

Reposition questions from the business: Business requirements often stem from ideas and possibilities that are imagined/envisaged by the business. Often the business is simply asking for knowledgeable responses to ‘blue sky’ possibilities. Hydrasight says in order to help the business better understand the implications, IT organisations can reframe these questions to encourage something other than a binary outcome (ie either the answer is ‘yes, we can do ...XYZ’ or ‘no, we can’t do ...XYZ’). “By reframing the question, the issue for both business and IT becomes ‘How can we make this happen? What might be/is involved’?”

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Tags strategyCIO roleeconomic crisisanalyst

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