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Conquering complexity

Conquering complexity

Today’s CIOs are applying their change management nous to an increasingly complex environment. Speakers at the MIS100 event share their strategies on managing this new constant in the networked enterprise.

Change management is already a given in the essential skills portfolio of CIOs. These days, however, this skill extends to much more — applying it to an increasingly complex environment.

The latest survey by analyst firm Hydrasight among CIOs across the region confirms this. John Brand, Hydrasight research director, says half of the respondents say they have simplification processes around IT.

“As organisations are trying to adapt to business demands, they are creating more complexity in their environments,” says Brand. “As a result managing complexity is a big challenge.”

Brand joined other ICT leaders in Auckland for the recent MIS100 event, where the latest management and leadership challenges facing CIOs were discussed.

Rapid changes

Brand talked about the various trends and issues contemporary CIOs have to grapple with in the networked enterprise.

Consumerisation of technology is one. IT strategies are being “driven by user demands who are used to using technology at home and bringing it to the organisation”, says Brand.

There is also the concept of social networking, often referred to as the wisdom of crowds. “I call it the stupidity of crowds,” says Brand. “Just because everybody is dong it does not mean you necessarily have to. But that is how the decision-making processes are working around organisations today.”

Vendor management is taking a different spin with disintermediation, where as Brand explains, you are no longer in direct control of those who provide you with technology systems. This means having two or three different organisations involved in supplying the technology solution and they may have various degrees of contract responsibilities to each other.

Key enterprise technology themes CIOs encounter are virtualisation, automation, green ICT, software as a service and cloud computing. Business process and intelligence are also strong trends. “With uncertainty about the economic position of the market, organisations are trying to extract every last bit of value out of the assets of the organisation,” notes Brand. Mobility is another theme as the demand for wireless devices grow.

Integration continues to be a hot topic, and the concept refers to a range of terms, like SOA, enterprise integration engines and enterprise application integration. “Whatever the terminology, integration is a big challenge for organisations,” says Brand.

It is people, people, people

Staffing and expertise continues to be a key business theme. But Brand argues the so-called war for talent is somewhat of a misnomer.

“There is a wealth of available talent, but managing it effectively is where the real skills shortage lies. Organisations must realise that good management is not always able to be imported from offshore markets and that local talent can often be developed more cost effectively.”

Hydrasight says organisations must distinguish common user behaviours and requirements to drive staff acquisition and retention strategies or to develop business cases, rather than simply focusing on demographic profiles based primarily on experience and age.

Steven Graham, one of the founders of the Agile Professionals Network, bats for the ‘Agile’ approach in IT project and program management in New Zealand. Graham, Fronde general manager, says Agile will take off

locally because New Zealand is a transparent society with a high level of tertiary education.

He quotes Gabrielle Benefield, former director of Agile development at Yahoo, who said, “I think New Zealand is going to really take to Agile, as culturally they are all about innovation and ingenuity”. Benefield said the Agile approach “suits the pragmatic no-nonsense way of working and breaks through the bureaucracy. The brain drain in NZ makes it important to keep people engaged and business competitive.”

Competence before influence

Owen McCall, chief information officer, The Warehouse Group, says a lot of CIOs believe “we have a birthright of influence in the boardroom”.

But he compares this stance to “the arrogant twaddle of a spoiled child”. An IT organisation that fails to deliver, he stresses, will not have influence on the boardroom (See cover story “Two steps forward, two steps sideways, one step back” on page 16).

His message for CIOs is to create an environment where they can have an influence in their organisation. “If you don’t do the work beforehand, you don’t get the result.”

He also stresses the imperative of aligning the strategy with the business. “IT is only one piece of a puzzle, it is not the most important piece. How are you going to have success without customers, without stores?”

Focusing on The Warehouse experience, he cites the four “musts” for an IS organisation:

Improve operations: This includes continuous improvements, proactive customer communication, along with cost savings.

Invest in people: “When you are in a skills shortage, investing in your people is an absolute necessity.” These include visible career paths, investments in technical training and business and relationship skills development.

Deliver on critical projects: Manage priorities with the business and improve project management rocesses, he notes.

Identify and deliver unique IS value add: These include master data management, service oriented architecture and Web 2.0.

A collaborative approach

Johan Vendrig, chief information officer of the Auckland District Health Board (ADHB), echoes the message of McCall about the need for ICT to get “some of the basics right first”.

Vendrig says the district health board has spent a lot of time and effort in the past few years to establish an improved information management government structure, and established or strengthened some core IM

capabilities and core IT services. The next step was taking a collaborative approach with other DHBs, as it is the only way to cope with the demand and complexity of the job.

The Ministry of Health, he says, is actively promoting increased collaboration among the district health boards (DHBs), particularly within regions. The ADHB, for instance, is part of the Northern region that includes

Northland, Waitemata and Counties Manukau. For the DHBs to achieve true collaboration, he says, they should lift their game in the following:

Progress joint vision, planning and strategy work: We should look across the region and ensure we have a clear, common goal, says Vendrig. He says his colleagues in the region agree this is critical to creating a

better environment for true collaboration. This also includes a commitment to accept some pain at a local level in favour of the common good.

Use standard processes to underpin trust: Alignment of processes with best practice models such as ITIL, Prince2 and PMP can help standard work practises, make performance more transparent and provide some kind of benchmark. This increased alignment of approach and visibility of performance will underpin greater levels of trust in the other team’s capability, he says.

Get smarter with communication: Vendrig says the DHBs must understand the opportunities of Web 2.0. If a particular health community is using Facebook, for instance, “we need to be in that space”.

Divide up the work based on strengths: Rather than duplicate effort and expertise, Vendrig says there should be a review of the strengths of the people and teams across DHBs and actively seek to leverage those strengths with regards to assigning roles and projects to DHBs.

Get over the ‘not invented here’ mentality: At the end of the day, says Vendrig, “End user result is all that counts.”

Break the rules

To achieve the goals of collaboration, Vendrig makes the case for building “strength-based organisations”, a concept tackled by Marcus Buckingham, author of First, Break All the Rules and Now, Discover your Strengths. Buckingham suggests most organisations are built on two wrong assumptions — that each person can learn to be competent in almost anything and that each person’s greatest room for growth is in his or her areas of greatest weakness.

Buckingham suggests the opposite is true — that each person’s talents are enduring and unique and that their greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strength. Yet, organisations often promote people away from the core technical skills they are actually very good at, says Vendrig.

He says the DHBs in the region have their unique strengths. For example, he says, the DHBs should try and leverage the innovation skills that exist in the CMDHB/health alliance team, the robust software development life cycle skills in the ADHB team, the strong link with the community in the Waitemata District Health Board and primary care in Northland.

“If you are working on your team’s strengths, you’ll have more fun,” says Vendrig. “People instinctively like using their talent.” He notes, though that while collaboration based on strength is productive and more fun, “it is harder than it looks”.

The rise of ‘collaboratories’

Vendrig’s message on collaboration resonates with that of another speaker, Dr Scott Diener, associate director, IT services, academic and collaborative technologies, at the University of Auckland.

Diener, speaking as the representative of the top organisation in this year’s MIS100, says the University of Auckland is working to develop environments where “active collaboration” can take place and where multi-device users are the norm.

“Technologies are being used at breakneck speed for teaching, learning and research,” says Diener.

He says the term “collaboratories” has been coined to describe the active collaboration across universities and with international researchers.

Indeed, as Diener and the speakers in this year’s MIS100 event have shown, the new constant for today’s CIOs is the imperative to manage across rapid change, along with the inevitable complexity this brings.

Fronde and CDP kindly sponsored the 2008 MIS100 event. The MIS100 2008 publication is available at cio.co.nz.

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