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Avoid future shock – plan ahead

Avoid future shock – plan ahead

Looking ahead means you will build credibility, strengthen your strategic processes and become more customer-driven.

Stretched between managing their environments and delivering on new enterprise requirements, most CIOs report “not enough” time or resources as one of their key challenges. As innovation becomes the mantra within their enterprises, CIOs are being asked to focus on the new things. This is difficult to do if you are concentrating more than half your time on what you have always done.

To focus on the future, you may have to stop doing some of the things that you have done in the past. Here are some ideas that you might want to consider:

Rethinking constraints

Many CIOs spend a lot of time trying to rationalise requests from individual business units for tools and services, particularly those for personal productivity tools. For example, many CIOs today are deeply engaged in the proliferation of next-generation mobile devices as business units look for ways to help individuals do their jobs. Although it may save some money to standardise procurement and vendors, you need to question how much control is necessary and for what value. Standardisation saves time, but it is important to understand the trade-offs between vendor standardisation and the reality of the consumer revolution.

You might find yourself trying to walk backwards in front of a steamroller. In essence, CIOs lose credibility by putting constraints on the wrong things.

Ensure that your IT organisation minimises boundary disputes when business units use technology, particularly if business units have control over discretionary spending. It’s more important for CIOs to ensure the enterprise uses technology effectively than to provide all the technology through their own IT organisations. Initial support and education may be all that is needed … then let people regulate their own priorities.

Stop over-engineering

Enterprise architecture is a strategy, not a design specification. In an attempt to create truly integrated enterprise strategies, many teams are over-engineering standards and policies. Remember the role of enterprise architecture is to create a road map between current and end-state views of the organisation by bringing multiple perspectives together, including business, technology information and process views.

These are “big picture” elements that require a consistent vision, not mechanisms to prevent innovation.

The service delivery organisation doesn’t own the enterprise architecture but the IT organisation is a significant contributor to its vision. Rigid standards and policies might make it easier to reduce risk in system changes, though this approach reinforces the traditional view the IT organisation doesn’t understand how the enterprise needs to respond quickly to business or market changes.

Don’t use architecture to control priorities and direct details of business applications; rather, use it to enable coherence and synergy.

No apologies

CIOs seem to feel the sins of their organisational forbears rest soundly on their shoulders. In one form or another, most CIOs feel they are still living in the shadow of the past sins of unresponsiveness, poor execution, unreliable systems and the overall failure to meet business needs.

Therefore, most CIOs regularly proclaim they are a “new kind of CIO” in an attempt to separate them from behaviours that decreased the IT organisation’s credibility in the past. However, it’s much better to behave in new ways and to “live the vision” rather than talking about it.

Newly-appointed CIOs should be confident they were selected by business management because of their qualities and, maybe, for positive differences from the previous CIO. The danger is believing they personally represent the IT organisation to the business and become an apologist for it, instead of being the business executive for the IT function and its increasing effectiveness in enabling the business.

Many CIOs are somewhat confused, however, about the sources of credibility. It doesn’t come from simply proclaiming oneself as “different”. Credibility comes from one place only – delivering results that your enterprise leaders care about. Credibility is the result of an ongoing process that feeds itself. New CIOs have initial credibility. Based on that, the new CIO receives resources and permission to undertake IT initiatives.

Those initiatives have outcomes and results. Depending on what they are and the extent to which they benefit the enterprise, they enhance or diminish the CIO’s credibility in the eyes of the key stakeholders. The process becomes a virtuous cycle or a downward spiral. Every success builds more credibility for the CIO; every failure chips away at it.

Credibility requires building strong personal relationships. It means being politically smart, integrating IT objectives with enterprise objectives and anticipating business needs to deploy a predictable stream of technology enabling business solutions. Repeated apologies diminish that.

CIOs know they can’t focus on the future without leaving behind some of the past, or changing how they face current challenges. To “stop doing the wrong things for a variety of the right reasons” means you will build credibility, strengthen your strategic processes and become more customer-driven, as well as find time for those new initiatives.

Mary Ann Maxwell is group managing vice president, executive programmes at Gartner.

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Tags leadershipchange managementGartnerCareer management

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