Note: a little while back I posted that IT needs an epic journey. Rather than talk about that journey in dry abstract terms, I thought I would try to illustrate the challenges via a story. There will be periodic installments as well as an invitation to add to it.
John Delsey put down his morning coffee at the end of his desk as he turned and sat in his high back ‘executive’ chair. As CIO at his company, he liked getting into the office early on a Monday morning to go through and plan for the issues and meetings he would face in the coming week. John used to do this on Sunday night following one of Covey’s principles of highly effective people. The only problem was that thinking about work on Sunday night led to more email and less sleep during the night. Tired, stressed and upset was no way to start a workweek. So John had changes his routine to come in early on Monday’s prep at work and get a jump on the week.
John looked at his calendar and sighed. This week was pretty much like the last week and the week before that for that matter. There was the steering committee meeting for the ERP upgrade project that was running late and over budget. There was the Wednesday afternoon meeting with the CISO about the latest intrusion attempts and the fact the you can only count the attempts that failed and have no idea if they were successful.
John’s priorities for the year were pretty clear:
- Meet project and operational commitments
- Reduce the cost of your operations by at least 10%
- Increase the flexibility of IT to support changing business needs.
Basically do your job, he thought. Kind of like everyone else. Sales have responsibility for sales, manufacturing for making stuff, etc.
Sounds simple enough but the first requirement alone dominated his agenda. The project commitments for this year included a new CRM system, an upgrade to the ERP and Windows as well as a number of ‘yet to be specified’ mobile applications. The company was also launching a face-lift to its brand and product lines, the CMO thought that this really would not impact IT so he forgot to mention it until she realized that the web site infrastructure would not support the plans to make the brand more social.
“We sell industrial products,” John remembered the meeting, “ how social can a valve be?” The question was rhetorical; the lecture on the importance of social media and branding was not. Shelly’s going on about the shift in consumer needs, the emergence of Facebook and Twitter and how the company needed to get into the 21st Century reminded John of the eCommerce – got to get on the web – talk of the late 1990’s.
“We’re still cleaning up that mess,” he recalled as his eyes fell to the CRM and ERP projects that were finally bringing together systems split asunder by eCommerce, the economic crisis, and the two recessions in between.
“Integrate to innovate”, John mumbled the theme of this years IT strategy as he looked at the list of project requests and commitments for the year. “Divide and conquer is more like it,” John said with a sigh. He knew that really meant doing more with less, more in the sense of more multi-tasking, more fragmenting the IT organization, more concurrent projects and more activities.
The only problem is that more activities do not necessarily mean any more results. In fact last year 20% of all projects started did not finish, they were postponed, slowed down or just ignored under the idea that if people are not screaming for it, then they really do not need it.
One in five of the people in John’s IT organization basically did nothing as their resources, effort, energy and expertise evaporated in unfinished projects. Couple that with the year over year 10% cost take out and it was more like three out of every ten people were redundant.
“Same Stuff, different year,” was something that John remembered Steve Palay his head of infrastructure say at the last IT strategy meeting.
Same stuff, the thought, in terms of the same systems, the same projects, the same requirements, the same funding, the same situation as last year. Too much demand and not enough supply was how the analysts talked about it. Their answer was to improve controls, tighten governance, get good at saying no or not now. John had tried this and while his formal responsibilities were more manageable – informally he felt IT’s role in the organization to continue to slip away.
Different year, yes it is a new year and a new plan. But when John looked at the plan he found that he was reapplying old answers to old questions of cost, scope and schedule. Would doing the same thing change IT’s situation? Does that get us out of the hole, or does it just re-enforce IT’s role as a back office/functional/enabler – three words that increasingly spelled irrelevant.
Irrelevant but still expensive
John recalled that ten years ago a hundred dollars of IT bought a lot technology services and change. Today that same dollar was now less than 96 cents despite budget changes buying much more transaction volume, storage and compute power, but buying much less in terms of effective business change and improvement.
John noticed the meeting for Tuesday afternoon, an hour with Randy Corbin, the CFO entitled – The business value of 2013 plans. John was prepared for that meeting, he had the budgets spread, his metrics, his projects priorities, his Gant charts all in order and reviewed by analysts. He felt that he was in a strong position to justify IT’s budget, organization and spend.
But what is that was the right answer to the wrong question?
John was glad that he didn’t think about this on Sunday night, otherwise he would have been up all night.
But what now?