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Going digital? Most of us have skeletons in the closet

Going digital? Most of us have skeletons in the closet

Or, why transforming legacy systems is a challenge but not impossible

Modern IT teams will only work well if the focus is not solely on the digital world, especially not at the expense of legacy technology or ways of working.

Pete Yates

By now you would have seen numerous articles and heard about companies “going digital” - but are they really?

Can they truly be on the digital transformation journey if they do not have good foundations in place supported by a modern IT function?

Rather than look to jump straight to implementing one of the buzzwords of the moment - digital transformation - which is up there with devops, AI, cloud, data analytics, and bots, I argue that you need focus on modern IT as the start of a digital transformational journey which may eventually include elements of those buzzwords.

Modern IT does not happen by accident. It needs to be planned, well executed and ultimately driven by the IT leadership team.

Bringing in new “digital” capability will largely be in vain without a modern IT set up and the foundational capabilities in place.

Moving to a modern IT set up is definitely a journey and one that cannot be rushed. It must have a clear view of what the destination looks like because if you don’t know what the end game looks like how do you know you are on the right path or even successful?

That said, organisational transformation doesn’t truly finish - a particular iteration may do, but organisations will always be going through degrees of change so that it remains relevant or, so it can lead industry disruption.

But can you really embark on your organisational digital transformation without modernising your IT through a series of journeys and foundational building blocks? These journeys encompass, at a high level, people, process and technology, for example Agile, devops, hybrid cloud, end user support, guiding principles and talent attraction/retention (with team and organisational culture being a key component).

Leave no one behind on your journey

Changing the way your teams work can, for some, be a major upheaval and lead to a rejection of or resentment about bringing in new ways of working.

The organisation must set a clear vision as to why there is a need for change and how that will be achieved. There must a clear strategy and vision articulated to all teams. Ideally, this should be accompanied by regular awareness and education sessions where the benefits of adopting new methodologies and mindsets is clearly laid out and so that staff understand the answer to the fundamental question- “What problem am I solving?”

You will also need to bring in new talent who can share their knowledge and act as coaches to all levels of the organisation so that no one is left behind. It is also crucial that you have executive/board level buy in/support and money for any change that has significant impact on the IT teams.

Searching out the right talent is also crucial in creating a modern IT team. The right talent is multi-skilled, comfortable with rapid change and has a willingness to collaborate with other teams towards achieving a shared vision. 

Pete Yates: "It is no longer relevant to inform the organisation that a server or network link is down... IT needs to articulate the impact from the customer’s perspective and how it will impact your colleagues, so they can determine the type of the communication they need to get out to their customers and how/when to keep them updated."
Pete Yates: "It is no longer relevant to inform the organisation that a server or network link is down... IT needs to articulate the impact from the customer’s perspective and how it will impact your colleagues, so they can determine the type of the communication they need to get out to their customers and how/when to keep them updated."

Innovation culture is key to modernising IT

For your journey to really take off, innovation is a key element in bringing about change.

To enable your team to innovate there must be a supportive culture in place, where staff have the time and freedom to innovate, and where they’re trusted and given authority to create and implement innovative solutions that support the organisation’s guiding principles, that allow for easy decision making. By putting in some constraints in the form of guiding principles you are empowering teams to be creative around the edges.

To encourage innovation, organisational leaders need to support innovation by removing inhibitors such as time spent dealing with day to day incidents or by automating operational tasks.  Teams should have their ideas heard by way of individuals/teams pitching ideas every month to senior leaders for possible implementation. If an idea is selected, the particular individual or team they could have a period of time to turn that idea into a viable product or service.

You can’t go faster if your IT foundations are weak

If the IT team can’t deliver the basics (e.g. automation, delivery, service levels or advice in general) then they risk losing the trust of the organisation and may be overlooked for their advice to the executive team and key customers. 

If IT teams cannot consistently and quickly deliver to the needs of the organisation then there will be the headache of shadow IT within the company – again, a possible sign that IT is not being agile, cost effective or responsive enough to meet the needs of the organisation. 

Above all, get the basics right so IT can build on flexible technology decisions and solutions that support the organisation and its strategies.  If necessary, a partnership model may be appropriate where the IT teams can look for suitable partners to assist in areas that it does not consider as core to the services it offers to the organisation.

IT teams must also upgrade their themselves and come up with new strategies, ways of working, tactics and tools that help them build a purposeful digitally enabled organisation.

Pete Yates

Most of us have skeletons in the closet

Modern IT teams will only work well if the focus is not solely on the digital world, especially not at the expense of legacy technology or ways of working. Transforming legacy systems is a challenge but not impossible.  To do it requires a modern IT team that has the energy and mindset to adapt legacy technology to the current and future needs of the organisation. IT teams that only focus on supporting legacy systems may result in limited career progression and diminished future technology options. The innovation side of modernising IT teams should also look at ways to transform legacy systems whilst also using a collaboration of teams (both new and existing talent) to reimagine these legacy systems for the digital age such as through the use of APIs.

Transforming legacy systems is a challenge but not impossible.

Changing mindsets and ways of working

Modern IT teams need to collaborate well with other teams and have the ability to adopt new ways of working, such as Agile and devops.  

For example, the IT team should be able to take elements from Agile methodologies and utilise that thinking when it comes to continual service improvement (CSI) where you can use rapid delivery/planning and iterative improvements to bring about quick wins for your organisation.

This way of approaching CSI will enable an easier adoption of Agile Service Management. Agile Service Management can be defined as the application of agile principles/methodologies/thinking to ITSM (and vice versa). Most organisations will already have an approach to improving quality, and the added structure of scrum can also be valuable in bringing a level of structure to this CSI approach.

A mindset shift is required for IT teams as it is no longer relevant to inform the organisation that a server or network link is down.

IT needs to articulate the impact from the customer’s perspective and how it will impact your colleagues, so they can determine the type of the communication they need to get out to their customers and how/when to keep them updated.

The move to utilising more Agile practices will also beneficial to the organisation as you can get new products and services to market quicker use the Minimal Viable Product (MVP) concept so that a new product or service can be introduced to the market before your competitors. The idea being that product teams will continually iterate to get new features to market as part of their product roadmap.

Actually solving a customer problem

[Insert in here who you define as your customers]. In my case, I am talking about internal users, providing them a positive onboarding experience as well as continued relevant support and solutions to meet their customer’s needs.

IT teams should no longer be content with providing services to their own colleagues but should be supporting them in delivering the desired outcomes to their customers. This may mean being that trusted adviser to your colleagues as well as being flexible enough to support new solutions as required by the organisation.

Internal user expectation has grown in terms of what they require from technology at work, they can consume solutions out of work life, such as Spotify or Netflix and are also becoming more tech savvy in terms of the computers they use. So, providing your colleagues with the right tools to do their jobs is critical otherwise shadow IT will start to creep in.

Let’s briefly talk about technology

So, whether you look at Trello or Jira to track tasks and time or Cherwell, RemedyForce or even ServiceNow for ITSM, it is important that you choose the right technology solution that best suits your organisation and the way they want to work to support an Agile Service Management environment. The salient point here being to pick one solution (per need) and make sure all teams use, thus ensuring easy integration between your chosen tool sets.

So, you’ve got the tooling nailed, what platforms are you going to build your products or solutions on?

On premises, Amazon Web Services, Azure or even Google Cloud? with a hybrid approach being the new norm for most organisations with any legacy. Then you have to decide on automation and orchestration tooling (e.g. Puppet, Chef, Salt, Bamboo, Jenkins) to assist scrum teams in delivering quality software quickly, but that’s where a great architect working with the teams can really add value by actually designing a solution based on requirements.

Just make sure you use the same core applications across all teams therefore collaborating between teams is a lot easier, such as Office 365 or G-Suite. Technology decisions must be made based on what problem is it solving rather than a technology solution looking for a problem. When a new core application is required then it is essential that stakeholders are fully involved throughout the process along with education and information sessions for all staff that are required to use it. IT teams need to be flexible enough to support new applications, whether they are on premise or SaaS based.

IT teams must revamp themselves

The way we live, consume, work and interact with one another is fundamentally changing in a digital world with the need, through data driven decisions to better understand and support their customer’s. Not only do companies have to revamp their operating models, technology stack and adapt to a changing market environment; IT teams must also upgrade their themselves and come up with new strategies, ways of working, tactics and tools that help them build a purposeful digitally enabled organisation. The need for an organisational transformation is not optional any more — but building upon solid foundations to support your organisation’s digital transformation journey is a critical enabler for any organisational transformation to succeed or not.

So how have you approached modernising IT within your organisation? Please leave a comment below.

Pete Yates (@peteyatesnz) is an experienced technology and digital leader, who has worked across government, health, ICT services and corporates in New Zealand, UK and Europe. He is a regular contributor to CIO NZ and runs his own blog livingthetech.com.


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