I just spent the good fortune of spending a couple days in Western Canada. I met with numerous end-users spanning several industries included public sector (several different departments), mining, retail, manufacturing, and other regulated industries. I was speaking with a number of CIOs and other senior IT leaders concerning the need for an updated, business relevant information strategy – especially given the increasing focus on digitization.
There were a number of themes and threads that arose over the couple of days that align, as it happens, align with numerous other inquires in the last few months. So thought I would detail some of these for you.
There was one overarching theme that solidified in my mind, and that of complexity. More specifically how firms in general are tending to continuously overlay new complex processes and rules atop what was already a complex business or organization. This ‘adding to complexity’ seems to be everywhere and is creating all kinds of perverse or unintended consequences. More insidiously, many feel that they are actually seeking to make things easier too.
I feel that one reason why we are “over complicating” our processes and organizations is that senior management feels that their firms are too big and hard to manage and that the natural reaction is to establish some lowest common denominator in terms of process or analytic to try to standardize how the masses are to behave. You see his in every form of behavior, from sales, marketing, operations, service, fulfillment, and even finance.
It must be the case that some of us in the world are high performers and others are low performers, and we all know the Peter Principle: it tends to be easier to promote an effective lieutenant to boss, and have them introduce atop the new organization new processes that should emulate the success that led to promotion.
Well the results are often quite predictable:
- The very effective lieutenant becomes an ineffective boss, gets fed up and leaves, or worse, promoted again
- The other high performers get fed up with the ever increasing bureaucracy so that they themselves give up and move on
- The low performers carry on as before only with more credible claims to protection as “things take longer to learn”
I read one time a so-called management book on how complexity kills performance based progress and how firms should seek to avoid and weed out complexity. This is indeed wisdom. But the disease is alive and growing, it seems.
There were several other smaller themes that popped up over and again, probably adding to the complexity I refer to above::
- How to get the business involved as IT is doing all the leading when it comes to (fill in your pet investment of the day, such as big data, master data management, business intelligence, content management, records management etc.)?. Many such examples were asked of me. It seems many IT shops are pretty smart, and do have an understanding of the business needs, but business is too far removed from what IT is doing ‘on their behalf”.
- How to get IT to slow down since their ability to get investments approved is likely to prove their undoing? Too many IT shops have gotten funds approved for investments that have no real business outcome targeted. This manifests as a program in flight that has no measurable outcome to declare victory, or even completion. How such programs and investments get approved in the first I will never know. But IT needs to slow down and focus on business more. All this investment in cool tools and new toys is ok, to a degree. But budgets need to show value, not activity.
- How to classify information assets and prioritize which are most important? This is a classic from the domain of information architecture. This question never really dies- it’s a fan favorite. But it is back in vogue, since so much of our new information investments, even the good and smart ones, require us to prioritize among all the noise that is the information in our organizations.. What I found interesting too is that I just a note on this topic specifically: Gartner’s Three Rings of Information Governance Help You Prioritize Different Types of Data
- How to start managing information in more complex, heterogeneous, best of breed application landscape? And it’s sister, How to start managing information in more process standardized, even centralized, homogenous (read ERP mentality) application landscape? And the more interesting cousin, How to start managing information as my business shifts from one model (e.g. centralized/standardized) to the other (e.g. best of breed)?
All three of these questions are in fact different sides of the same three sided die. What I find interesting though is how misaligned end-user goals are to the software and consulting vendors there to help them. They may appear aligned but they are not. If they were aligned, would we really organize our business applications and data the way we have them today? I think not.
- What do we do if we are successful as a business, such as making a profit or growing fast, but we know we have issues in our data?
- How and where do we address the growing issues of information security, risk, and ethics?
- How can we (in IT) be successful if the business side do not have a usable set of business metrics driving their goals and deliverables?
There were more, and there are lots of discussion points to explore in this gold mine. If you are stopping by at our upcoming IT Expo/Symposium, I’d love to chat with you where we can explore these and more. Hope to see you there in a few weeks.