Experiment with IT applications and create added value for business and it

released: 9/11/2014

When I entered his room, the CIO was engaged in what you can call a dynamic conversation that grew increasingly angry. About 15 minutes into our appointment, he ended the call with the words that he wouldn´t accept and he would escalate. Trying to be polite, I didn´t ask any questions, but that wasn´t necessary either. He explained he had been talking to the UK country manager, who had just contracted a software supplier to design and implement an application, without any involvement of the CIO.
He explained that he had been engaged by the board of this international company. His briefing was to reduce the cost of IT and improve the services that IT delivered. Almost a year into the job, he found it increasingly difficult to create impact. He inherited an application landscape that had become scattered, as the result of years of local autonomous growth and a number of take-overs. The plan that he presented to the board included the global roll-out of a new CRM application and the replacement of the financial systems by one application, all standardized, with a positive business case.

The perspective of the country manager was different. Being very focused on his commercial process, he had been asking for an application that supported him in running the complex quotes to his customers that were now being done largely manually. Key components of what he was after were a configuration tool; a calculation engine and a tool that could help them retrieve relevant projects in the past that could be used as an input for new quotes. The response from IT was not very satisfactory. All they could offer was a plan to roll-out CRM and his country was not in the roll-out plan until after 1,5 years. He felt he got a response to a question he didn´t ask, as his real question was not attended to. As a few calls didn´t deliver any perspective, he decided to follow his own course. After the escalation that followed the initial call with the CIO that I witnessed, the board didn´t really know what to do.

They supported the CIO to deliver according to their brief, however they also found the arguments of the country manager compelling. Not overseeing the content nor the consequences, they didn´t give much guidance. And there, the board missed two opportunities: one to address an issue that was urgent and important not only for the UK but similarly for many other regions, the second to support the CIO in his genuine drive to standardize the application landscape in areas where it matters
The key here is not who´s right; the key is business relevancy, which is the driver for almost all IT initiatives. The backbone is important, but it is also important to attend to the needs of sales and engineering, who ensure that through their offers customers do buy and profit is generated. As managers in their home environment can download almost every application for their tablet in a wink, they don´t understand it takes ages for IT to deliver when they are at work. However, the same managers also require their core processes to be stable, safe and correct, using consistent, reliable data. This requires principles and agreements that needs clear governance to be in place.

The key is to differentiate. Different applications for different purposes. Many individuals within a company are ´experimenting´ with applications, sometimes ´stand-alone´, sometimes tapping into existing data or integrating with existing processes through specific software. This is good, as it triggers also a more experimental approach that can speed up the process of getting more concrete what you want. However, let it be a collaborative exercise where IT and business users are transparent about the experiments. It can and will speed up the learning both in business and in IT.

Toolary provides many applications and tools in very different areas. If dealt with this richness correctly, it will serve the business well and may help the IT manager to improve speed and quality of their service delivery. However, ´a fool with a tool is still a fool´. So ensure that you recognize where and when demands should be really embedded in the ´backbone´ of your IT landscape, and where it is OK to experiment. I hope that it speeds up time-to-market of new IT applications and brings vague discussions down to concrete examples. Challenge each other, and both IT and business managers will benefit, with in the end a better result for the company as a whole.