Five things smart CIOs know about digital transformation

Five things smart CIOs know about digital transformation

Last week I was lucky enough to participate in a CIO roundtable discussion led by Myron Hrycyk, former Group CIO at Severn Trent Water in the UK. [Check out an in-depth Digital Leader interview I did with Myron earlier this year.] The purpose of the discussion was to explore the question of change at pace, and its role in digital transformation.

The session itself was subject to the Chatham House Rule so I can’t reproduce attributed comments here, but here are some nuggets from the great debate we had, paraphrased from comments made by the dozen or so CIOs present.

Think beyond two-speed / bimodal IT
The idea of bimodal IT is too simplistic. You can’t simply say that everything goes at one speed or another, follows one approach or the other. And you certainly can’t say that all ‘systems of record’ work has to go at one speed while all ‘system of engagement’ work has to go at a faster speed. That’s absurd.

Fundamentally success with digital technologies will not be about how fast you go – it will be about going at the right speed in the right direction.

IT leaders and their teams should promote themselves as ‘driving instructors’: the business leader wanting an outcome is in the driving seat, and IT sits alongside, showing them how to drive at an appropriate speed for a particular situation and set of driving conditions.

Build bridging strategies
Regardless of how simplistic or sophisticated your approach to governing different kinds of projects and programs that progress at different speeds, you’ll need to implement bridging strategies. Fundamental here is the ability to create an end-to-end architecture practice that establishes policies and standards for bridging different platforms and managing interfaces.

Deploy innovation platforms
In the context of fast-moving programs where innovation is the goal, it’s critical to place within your architecture highly agile yet scalable platforms on which people can build quickly and test quickly. This needs real discipline to get right.

Over time you’ll want to also transition the outputs of innovation work into a more stable environment which is governed in a different way. You need to have a clear plan of how you’ll take innovative concepts and incomplete results, test those, place them in governed technology roadmaps, and then place them in your broader architecture.

Shape your sourcing strategy to complement
You have to have a sourcing strategy that mirrors and supports a sophisticated IT strategy like this that’s founded on the ability to collaborate across the business and flex according to demand – otherwise you will find that your suppliers will get in the way.

[Incidentally, many of the other conversations with IT leaders at the event I was working at echoed this point strongly; active renegotiation or rethinking of technology supplier contracts was a very consistent theme.]

Beware ‘lipstick and pigs’ thinking
It’s easy as IT leaders (or staff) to dismiss business requests to pull quick solutions together to meet tactical needs as like ‘putting lipstick on a pig’ – in other words, thinking mostly about the edges of your systems without considering the long-term or deeper implications of quick-fix extensions or integrations. However you have to be careful here, as it’s easy to miss something that can be really important: for leaders of other business functions, the lipstick might be the very most important part of the whole story.

IT culture is still, in most organisations, steeped in notions of elegance and efficiency – and the need to pursue these at the expense of expediency. In a business context though compromise is common, and IT leaders have to be prepared to understand this and help other IT staff understand the implications.

What’s your view?
I thought this roundtable was fascinating. What would you add? Let me know by commenting below

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