[Column] Jon Tullett: The evolution of the IT operation
The days where the IT operation was a separate fiefdom with autonomy are gone. In most organisations, there are now components that are relatively closely aligned with the business and they are delivering specific business outcomes. IT operations now tend to be very workload or business unit specific in their support. The downside, however, is that different silos within the organisation have very different experiences, resulting in inconsistency.
This has led to a certain level of dissatisfaction within the business, with those who are not getting their requirements met resorting to finding their own solutions. That is really where the chief digital officer (CDO) concept started to emerge, to ensure that there is someone to coordinate all of this and improve the overall performance. Despite that, most organisations in South Africa are experiencing some flavour of that inconsistent outcome and the pressure in terms of evolving is to now really start bringing in that level of consistency.
Businesses do not know what they need to focus on next, or which part of the business will be able to deliver value more quickly. They do know, however, that the support organisations need from the likes of IT needs to be repositioned so that they can deliver on-demand. They, therefore, need IT to move away from being tactical and responsive, and become more agile, with the right technology, skills, and expertise to move quickly to support the business.
Move away from typical IT behaviour
IT is typically comprised of people who like to overprepare and then deliver something appropriate. This no longer works as organisations need to be more fluid in their approach. They can no longer take months to build things out as that will strip them of their competitive advantage.
Our advice to end-user organisations is to have the right platform approach so that they are better positioned for future evolution. It has a lot to do with the management for your infrastructure, the type of data that you gather and how you interface with the business. It’s about getting closer alignment with the business, not just in a conceptual way, but a molecular way. It is also about keeping in contact, making sure that IT is part of projects and that boundary functions such as security are understood from the outset rather than being focused on later.
Tackling the issue of skills
Ensuring they have the right skills in place is particularly challenging for South African organisations. They must have at least a medium-term view of what their architectural requirements are going to be. That is getting very complicated with cloud and even more so with emerging technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. You can’t anticipate everything in technology, but you must ensure that you have the pieces in place to build that out rather than having to start from scratch every time. This requires a flexible and adaptable infrastructure. This can be challenging in organisations where the primary focus is on cost-containment, as they tend to provision the minimum of what they need at the time, which almost implies minimum flexibility for the future.
Skills are in short supply and the market is very competitive. They are hard to retain, and ongoing training is difficult, but it must be done creatively and intelligently. I would recommend that organisations avoid point skills unless it is absolutely necessary, and rather ensure that your skills internally are very broad, that they have collective exposure across the business and have as much business context as possible. Where skills are required for specific technologies, use subcontractors or outsourcers, but ensure that, internally, you have the integration, business, and management skills to stitch it all together. The pivot here is to move from focusing on technical skills to ensure you have the right integration skills in place.
An evolution driven by business expectation
From the outside, it’s all about customer and partner expectations. People expect you to be able to do business differently and adjust to meet their expectations in terms of service delivery, consistency and the ability to integrate systems. Internally, people have an expectation and some knowledge of what is out there in the market. They see case studies and hear stories of how organisations can function when everything is going right, and they want that. Right now, we are in a place where the business dictates what the outcome is going to be and have an expectation around how that will be serviced, regardless of how unrealistic the outcome may be. What we need now is a closer alignment between business and IT so that the business understands when an expectation is unreasonable or an expectation of a way of doing business is just incompatible with market conditions or the regulatory environment.
This evolution is a natural progression in the business and is an ongoing discussion we have with CIOs attending our annual IDC CIO Summit. What caught IT departments and managers by surprise, was that the business evolved in unexpected ways, such as the growth of cloud computing and the CX-oriented transformation within lines of business. The business likewise had an expectation that IT operations would be able to evolve at the same pace. That led to a big disconnect, and although many businesses are over that phase, now it is about making sure business and IT go through the next evolution together.