Agility and The New CIO

The New CIO is a weekly article about the challenges facing today’s CIO as well as what can be done to prepare for future challenges.

Are you agile?

I’m not talking about the Agile development methodology…I’m talking about BEING agile.  Are you able to deliver what your organization needs (with less resources)?

Build it….or they will

Do you have a Shadow IT group or groups in your organization?  If you said no, I’d bet you’d be wrong.   There are always Shadow groups within organizations….the difference between your organization and others has to do with the governance and network security.  Perhaps you don’t have a full-blown shadow IT group with non-supported applications and and/or hardware, but I’d put money on the fact that there is a person within your company that has purchased access to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product.

Why would someone go outside your IT organization?  That’s an easy answer….because you can’t get things done for them.

Forget that IT governance, security and processes have to be followed…the end-user can’t get what they need from you so they go out and find something on their own.  If you’re lucky, all they’ve done is purchase a SaaS application. If you’re unlucky they’ve gone out and procured a third-party platform that they want to integrate with the rest of your IT systems.

Why does Shadow IT exist?

There’s a ton of reasons that these types of things occur, but most simply, Shadow IT arises because people don’t feel they are getting what they need from the IT group.

They feel like it’s too difficult to work with IT.  It takes too long to get things done.  There are too many restrictions placed upon them from IT.

You know what? They’re right!  At least from their perspective, they are.  Think about it.  Should it take a year to get a new project management tool setup for your Marketing group?  Should your Finance group really have to care about the technical restrictions?  I say no.

How do you fix it?

While I believe the real answer is a difficult and deep one but the place to start to looking for answers is a simple one: Be agile.

Make it easier for your organization to get things done. Make it easy for your Marketing group to implement a PM tool.  Take the restrictions out of the equation when talking to Finance about a new platform.  Understand their needs first and then you and your IT staff figure out how to deliver the system that they need.

The New CIO will have to be agile and build an agile team. Agility can mean many thinks but it doesn’t mean you have to ignore IT governance, security or your processes…just don’t use them as excuses for not getting things done.

Join me next week for another article in The New CIO series.

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  • ameyer32

    Thought provoking piece, though to me, it brought up a slightly different question. It used to be that IT departments would as the “Buy vs Build” question. Maybe there's a new question forming, “Buy vs Build vs SaaS”?

    The larger the organization, the tougher the question becomes.

    Having built, bought and SaaSed, the organizational context determines many of the answers. I think you're right, SaaS enable “Shadow IT” to deliver huge business value at price points and in time frames IT departments cannot hope to touch. The question is, do Shadow IT projects want to integrate or does someone from the IT police stomp their feet and demand that “enterprise standards” be followed?

    There was a very interesting article/blog/write-up that said one of the reasons Alfred Sloan was so successful at GM was that he put in the centralized structure, but was personally flexible enough to “not notice” situations where plants/groups/individuals/etc. successfully did their own thing. The disciples of Sloan, having been steeped in his thinking, were not flexible enough.

    Is it possible that centralized IT maybe following that same path? Maybe Shadow IT, SaaS and local innovations are the correct approach?

  • Thanks Andy.

    Excellent points…perhaps flexible IT is the wave of the future. If we allow Shadow IT to to thrive and try to manage it, would it allow IT (and the organization) to be more agile?

    Great ideas….good stuff to think about.

  • Thanks for this post Eric. In addition to the causes you mentioned for “Shadow IT” organizations to exist, I'd add a general loss of faith in IT delivery. If IT isn't able to deliver on commitments over time, business leaders will take matters into their own hands, just as each of us would in the same situation. If my success as a leader of operations, marketing, manufacturing etc is dependent on IT, and IT isn't able to show me that they can deliver on a regular basis as a part of the overall strategy/plan, I'd build a shadow IT team to get it done, regardless of whether I had the expertise to manage IT, and even it it (long-term) wasn't the best use of corporate resources. Its human nature.

  • Hi Scott – You are correct…a loss of faith in IT's abilities to deliver is a huge factor in Shadow IT's rise. I've taken the lead in building Shadow IT groups myself…I needed to get something done quickly and took that route because IT couldn't help.

    Our jobs in IT leadership should be to help the organization get things done…not keep things from happening. Agility in the IT group should help here.

  • simonstapleton

    This is a huge challenge for the modern CIO. No longer can they be a dictator in the use of technology. Business IS technology. The concept of the mash-up has meant that 'business people' (in the traditional sense) are using technology without the involvement of the IT department. Eeek….

    I don't think this is a case of regaining control – it's like you say – the CIO's capabilities needs to be agile to be in front of technology changes and support them, as well as manage the infrastructure. The CIO will have to wear two hats at the same time. I hope their heads are big enough!

    Shadow IT will exist and flourish if that doesn't happen. Industrial IT and Business Technology will emerge as two separate strands of the CIO function.

    Prepare for the Future of the IT Organization: Or be left behind (http://www.simonstapleton.com/wordpress/2008/06…)

  • Hi Simon – Thanks for the link to your article…great stuff as always.

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  • I haven't heard about “Shadow IT” before, but I can definitely relate.

    The snobiness of IT is something, at least IMO, unavoidable. Asking IT to do stuff and not getting what you want is something that is completely ordinary. For example, the support department opening tickets for bugs in the software, the bugs reach the IT department, and most of them are never fixed. Support people need to get their bugs fixed (it's causing more support by the day). Usually their options depend on the prominence and the authority of IT in the organization. They can either force the IT to fix the bug (weak IT authority), contract a 3rd party to fix the bug (also a weak IT authority), do nothing and wait for IT to do something about it (very strong IT authority).

    The best option for IT in case its authority is not that strong is to cooperate, within reason, with all departments. Note: Even the strongest IT can turn very weak once upper management withdraws support, and it will, once the complaints from other departments become too many to overlook…

  • Great thoughts. The key for IT departments everywhere is to cooperate with others as well as to communicate with others. This communication helps every to understand the real driving factors behind what the business wants/needs to do.

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