Staying in the Loop by Letting Go (a Little)

Jeremy Campbell, CIO, Electric Power Research Inst.
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Jeremy Campbell, CIO, Electric Power Research Inst.

My career in information technology predates the wide use of the internet. I downloaded Linux from a BBS in the early 90s. From that time to now, the world has gone from DVD to Blue Ray to streaming, from phones built into cars to super computers in our pockets that handle voice, and from beastly, slow systems to elegant solutions like the iPhone, Surface, and flash storage.

"Digitalization offers benefits to almost every area of business, and digital ideas come from all over"

There is an adage that “change is the only constant.” While that is certainly the case, technology’s creep into every facet of our lives has been relentless. Things that were once the domain of large corporate or university IT shops started ending up in smaller shops and home offices. The organizational spend on technology was massive, but there was a bigger target in the sights of the manufacturers- consumers. Consumer technology now permeates everyone’s lives. As the workforce went home, mobile, or self-supporting, consumer technology started coming into the enterprise.

One of the best examples of consumer technology coming to the office and the shift it has caused is the iPad. The IT leaders of many organizations vowed never to allow such a thing on their networks. This vow lasted about a month– up to the point when the CEO walked in with an iPad.

These consumer devices also offered new capabilities. With a credit card and an account in an app store, anyone can purchase virtually any technology-enabled service without relying on their IT department. This kind of consumer expectation combined with the currency of cloud technologies, and it set the stage for an explosion.

Now we have a free for all. Parts of your organization are doing things with technology you know nothing about. If you think you know all about it you’re fooling yourself. Technology has become everyone’s domain and the scariest part of all is that your customers may not need you any longer. To remain relevant, a CIO must make customers want the services provided. If they don’t want the services, the offering is probably not aligned with the organization.

This shift– from wielding control to wielding influence– can be very difficult to make. CIOs and other IT leaders have been accountable for “making it work” for decades. The only way this could work in the past was rigor, and this rigor was built and maintained by IT strictly controlling the environment. Letting go of the control that has defined IT is difficult and uncomfortable, but necessary.

Your sales organization can go around you and create their CRM at Salesforce.com. Your organization’s service teams can purchase SaaS that free them from your cumbersome ERP system. Your engineering group is contracting with its own developers because the IT backlog is so long. Given all of this, what can you do?

Be a Service Broker

Your IT organization should be positioned at the nexus of emerging technology, valuable trends, and your business needs. Leverage this expertise to be a service broker. Identify service providers that meet your requirements and include them in your service catalog. Facilitate the interaction of the business with the services, possibly even abstracting the relationship. Make it a value adding service and contract development, SaaS platform purchases, and other ITaaS will run through your shop.

Provide Value Added Consulting

Yes, every organization is a technology organization and most employees are in roles that heavily use technology. People are pretty smart with this stuff, right? Almost all business projects today have a sizable technology component, and these projects are springing up from sources all over the business. They are mostly good ideas; however their progenitors have little ability to implement. Furthermore the length of time required plan, secure funding and resources, and get scheduled through traditional avenues is often seen as innovation smothering. To break this perception, capitalize on your IT organization’s portfolio of internal and external services and mature understanding of how your business operates to help your customers achieve their goals on a reasonable timeframe with less friction.

Digital Everything

The CIO does not exclusively own the digital arena any longer. Digitalization offers benefits to almost every area of business, and digital ideas come from all over. After you master the first two points, you are ready to be a serious player or leader in your organization’s digital business strategy. To recap, you are at peace with the fact that IT is happening outside of your IT shop. You have enabled your business’s access to services, now within parameters and with visibility of IT. Your IT organization is a part of the digital project flow of other business units rather than something to be worked around. Get in front and lead.

Closing the Loop

Everyone reading this article knows the technological genie is out of the bottle. There is no going back to the days of dictatorial control IT once wielded. And that’s good, because people hated IT much of the time then. This change presents the CIO with the stark choice of either leading the organization through a paradigmatic change or risking the IT shop being commoditized like so many other legacy IT services.

My team has not mastered any of this. It’s a work in progress, and probably always will be to a degree. Like many of you, I started my career in technology because I enjoyed the pace of change. We’re certainly getting waves of change now. You can lead your IT organization through these waves or let it founder into irrelevance. The choice is yours.

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