If, in my last post, I did not convince you to start small, let’s look inside your IT department. I am fascinated by the perception from non-technical people that IT know what they are doing with digital. The perception goes along the lines of, because they are ‘in IT’ they must understand digital.
The IT industry itself is in the midst of its own transformation. To deliver the type of customer experience you hear about and aspire to, the IT department must themselves change beyond recognition. The way thought leaders now approach software design, the way thought leaders now approach software delivery, even the way thought leaders now think about IT operations mean the traditional IT structure as we know it is dead.
To keep pace with digital, my peers – from CIOs to software engineers – are all on a steep learning curve. Many of the new methods embraced by digital are themselves still evolving. CIOs are having to rethink their entire operating models, skillsets, and technology tools, while themselves try to understand the role they must play in digital.
Most organisations have evolved, adopting various technologies over time. A complex web of applications – many designed and coded decades ago – is still in use today. Integration of these applications uses a mix of approaches, most of which there is no documentation for. The systems landscape is so intertwined, so complex in its nature that replacing one system may bring another to its knees.
One application may have dozens, sometimes hundreds, of integration points. These integration points feed other applications and processes across your organisation. Often we see these integration points reach out beyond your organisation to its partners.
If you think about your current suite of business applications, they are more akin to a game of Kerplunk. Change one piece and you may bring another crashing down. To mitigate this risk the IT industry created frameworks with lengthy planning and test cycles. Further administrative efforts came in to manage changes to systems and releases to the business. These activities were attempting to reduce the risk that a change in systems would disrupt business operations. The trade-off of such an approach is software costs spiralling and time to deliver lengthening.
As with my Kerplunk analogy, with every change you make to a legacy system they become more fragile, more brittle, and at some point, will come crashing down.
To meet your digital aspirations, you need IT systems you can change often at low cost and at low risk. Not only were your IT systems not designed to work this way, but your IT people were never trained to think this way. In fact, everything from your IT governance, its operating model, to its policies and processes must change. Its people not only need to be retrained with new methods but must also go through a culture change. No longer will an IT person work in their own technical silo. In the future, every person in IT will be part of a cross-functional team focusing on products consumed by the business or its customers.
Taking another look at large-scale digital transformations as your first step. What you are asking for is your IT department to work in a manner they have never worked before. To work with tools they have had little to no training on. To follow policies and processes that don’t yet exist. And to do this on systems that are critical to the running of your business. When you look at it in this context you can understand why people are challenging the ‘go big’ approach.
Starting with a single business problem allows IT to understand what needs to change. As they encounter a new issue, they will learn from it and make the necessary adjustments. Over time, every element of your IT department will be in a position to support digital.
Is your IT department ready to support your digital aspirations, or do they need to learn as the organisation learns?