Are you building an “order taker” or “solution maker” environment?

The Order-Taker By mynameisharsha on flickrDave Brock just published a post that resonated with me. The title of the post – Order Taker or Solution Creator – hits home in the IT world.

In the article, Dave describes what he calls ‘order takers’ and ‘solution creators’. The order taker does a good job of working with clients to deliver a widget but does very little to ensure that the widget actually will solve the clients’ long term problems.  Nothing wrong with order takers mind you…they can be very reliable and in some instances, order takers are perfect.

But other times, its better to be a solution maker/creator. In his article, Dave describes the solution creator as:

 They’re idea people, they’re results people–not just for themselves but for the customer.  They help their customers envision a new future.  They help their customers think about their business differently.  They help their customer change and improve.

Emphasis mine.

He also writes:

When they engage the customer they talk about what the customer is trying to achieve.  They don’t spend a lot of time on what their solution does, it’s features or capabilities.  They know it’s not about the product but what the customer is trying to achieve.  Instead they focus on outcomes and results the customer will achieve.  They quantify these results, so the customer can clearly understand the impact it will have on their business.

Emphasis mine.

Historically, the IT group has been an order taker. They have existed to do what they are asked to do…and for the most part, we’ve been good at being order takers.

Need a new server? Check….that’ll be $$$.

Need a new application?  Check…that’ll be $$$$.

Need your email backed up?  Check…that’ll be $.

In recent years, some organizations have begun trying to transform the IT group into something more than an order taker.  Some CIO’s and IT groups have even taken the initiative to try to transform themselves into something more than order takers.

Some have been successful. Many haven’t.  Most that have succeeded in this transformation have understood that the status quo will not work going forward. The IT of yesterday will not work for the organization of tomorrow. Business is moving faster and faster every day and the order taker and gatekeeper mentality of yesterday’s IT will leave many IT professionals behind if they don’t change.

I wrote an article a few months ago titled Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation that talks about the need for IT to change or have change forced upon us. In that post I wrote:

Operational IT will focus on the tactics necessary to keep the lights on and servers running. Strategic IT / Business Technology will focus on the strategy use of technology for the organization.   Both groups will co-mingle and work together of course…but the teams will have different goals and different types of people working within each.

Notice the difference between Operational and Strategic IT?  One difference is that one is an order taker while the other is a solution creator.  Operational IT will remain the order takers and the newly formed Strategic IT / Business Technology team will be the solution creators.

So…CIO’s & IT Leaders…are you transforming your teams into solution creators or are you happy being order takers?  IT Pro’s…what about you? Are you happy in the operational world of IT or are you chomping at the bit to help your ‘customers’ create solutions?

PS: A few other posts about similar topics that I’ve published are Driving transformation with IT starts with transforming ITNot What, but How – Connecting IT and the Business and I own the technology, you own the content for examples. If you haven’t read them yet, I’d love to have you add them to your ‘to read’ list 🙂

Image Credit: The Order-Taker By mynameisharsha on flickr

Are CFO’s running IT?

My Spending Money By Jake Wasdin on flickrI just read an article describing the results of a Gartner survey of Chief Financial Officers and their opinions of IT and CIO’s. The article –  CFOs increasingly calling the shots in IT from CIO magazine’s UK website – reports some very disturbing results.

Before I report on the results, let’s look at the survey itself. According to the article, the survey was:

a survey of 344 CFOs at North American companies involved in manufacturing, financial services, healthcare, energy, transportation and other fields. The survey, conducted by the professional organisation Financial Executives International in tandem with Gartner, sought to find out what CFOs think about use of information technology in their companies and the people who provide it. They weren’t that happy.

A few highlights (as reported in the article):

  • About a quarter of the CFOs had confidence that their own IT organization
  • 25% [of CFO’s] see the CIO as a key player in determining the business strategy
  • 18% of the CFOs said they thought “our IT service levels meet or exceed business expectations.”
  • 42% of IT organisations now report directly to [the] CFO
  • 35% of the CFOs viewed IT as being a strategic driver of business performance.

A few interesting results having to do with the authorization of IT investments:

  • 29% of the respondents said it’s a steering committee of IT and business executives.
  • 26% said it’s the CFO alone authorizing IT investment, up from 18% last year.
  • 25% says it’s the CIO and CFO together.
  • In 11% of organisations, it’s still the CIO alone.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a little worried by all these results.  Only 25% of the respondents had confidence in their IT group?  Only 18% thought their IT group met or exceeded expectations?

Now…I’m not really worried that the CFO seems to be taking control of IT…but I am worried about the perception that the CFO’s have towards IT.  Note: I have no issue with the IT group reporting into the CFO – or COO – or CEO – doesn’t matter…what matters to me is that the CIO and IT groups are able to do their jobs and are appreciated for the work they do.

If I were a CIO today, I’d make a beeline to the CFO’s office and try to understand how the CFO of my organization views me and my team.    I’d also make sure everyone else in the organization knows what I and my team were doing today and planning for the future.

I’m looking for a copy of the full survey – but I doubt I can find it since I don’t have an account with Gartner…I’d love to see the questions and results to the entire survey. I’d like to be able to see how the questions were asked and answered.

Do these numbers jive with what you’re seeing in your company? Are you seeing CFO’s taking more control over IT?

Image Credit: My Spending Money By Jake Wasdin on flickr


Is the CIO Role disappearing?

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

disappearing norma...By Norma Desmond on flickrI just finished reading a pretty good piece on the Enterprise CIO Forum titled Why your next job won’t be in IT by Paul Muller.

The basis for the post, according to Paul, was a question asked of one of his colleagues about the future of the CIO – more specifically, is the role disappearing?

Is the role of the CIO disappearing completely or is it just changing from one type of role to another? Is the CIO moving away from technology – or are CIO’s moving closer to technology?

Paul writes:

The fact is, the CIO role has been in transition for a long time. The whole concept of “IT/business alignment” meant that the CIO (and the IT staff) had to understand the business and apply technology to solve its problems. That doesn’t change, but the advent of cloud computing means an even greater opportunity for the CIO – the ability to offload certain capabilities to the cloud and actually devote more time to focusing on the business’ most pressing challenges.

Well said.

The future will still have a need for the CIO but it may not be the same role we see today. The role will be around, but there may be a transition coming. What does that transition look like?

I’ve written about this topic before…for example, see  Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation and The shifting role of the CIO.    Paul touches on the subject when he writes:

What do you need to be thinking about to make that transition? First of all, you’re not going to make the transition alone. Is your team ready? Do you currently have more technologists than business process experts? Do you have the people who understand multinational business? Do you have people well-versed in contract negotiations, intellectual property, and privacy laws? Do you have a strong staff that can handle the day-to-day responsibilities so you can free yourself up to become a true strategic partner to the business?  Those are the capabilities you’ll need for a cloud world, along with business analysts and enterprise architects who can map a technology to a business need.

Some excellent questions.

Capabilities are key…do you have the right staff to be able to transition from today’s CIO to the CIO of tomorrow?  How about your own skills…are you ready for the  transition? Is your team?

Great stuff to be thinking about….jump over and read the rest of what Paul has to say in Why your next job won’t be in IT.

So…no…the CIO role isn’t disappearing but it is definitely changing.  Are you ready for the change?

Image credit: disappearing norma…By Norma Desmond on flickr

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

Fixing the ‘pain’ isn’t enough

No pain By trees like lungs on flickrIan Brodie wrote a nice piece last week titled Why “Finding the Pain” is a bad strategy that resonated with me.

The approach that many companies and consultants take with clients and potential clients is to ‘find the pain’ and provide services to fix this ‘pain’.

I’ve taken this approach many times myself with much success, but Ian makes a very valid point – solving the ‘pain points’ is really just the first step…and its also the easiest thing to do.  But easy is just that…easy.

Ian writes:

Problem solving to address clear areas of pain is something most organisations have got good at, and that a whole bunch of consultants and coaches can do pretty well.

Very true.  Many companies know what their pain points are and they have a good idea on how to solve those pains…or at least they know many companies / consultants they can reach out to so solve those pains.

Ian continues:

Sure, you might have to start by fixing some core problems – find the pain and stop the bleeding in medical terms. But you then have to move on to something much bigger.

Ian wrote his blog post from a consultant’s standpoint….but the idea can be applied to all areas of business…especially IT.

After reading the post, I shared the link on twitter. Almost simultaneously, I heard from two folks – Tom Catalini and Kelvin Lindley – who had the same thought.

[blackbirdpie url=”!/KelvinLindley/status/74675652971855872″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/tomcatalini/status/74838478889824256″]

Both Tom and Kelvin are spot on when they said that ‘fixing the pain’ isn’t enough in IT any longer. We (in IT) can no longer look for the ‘pain’…there are too many easy ways for the organization to ‘fix the pain’ these days.  Its much too easy for a person or group to find a solution to their problem in the ‘cloud’.  Its much to easy these days to plunk down a credit card and buy a year of service from a SaaS vendor.

Finding the pain is a tactical approach to solving problems. Rather than look for the pain and try to fix it…we need to dive into the organization and really understand their needs and wants.

Whether you are an IT professional working inside an organization or a consultant like me, its time to step back and take a strategic approach to helping the organization.

Sure…fixing the pain is necessary but oftentimes that pain is a symptom of a larger problem.  The CIO’s, IT professionals and consultants that can help organizations solve those larger problems are the ones that will survive and thrive.

Image Credit: No pain By trees like lungs on flickr

Destroying Customer Goodwill – with Technology

RANT, this way By Nesster on flickrSunday night, Tracie and I wanted a good hamburger.  We didn’t want to go out…and we didn’t have any hamburger meat at home.

So…being the clever person I am, I decided I needed to 1) drive out and pick something up or 2) figure out how to make hamburgers appear from nothingness.

I haven’t got my sorcery badge complete yet, so I chose option #1.

I remembered that our favorite local burger joint Mooyah offered online ordering.  Brilliant! I can sit on my tookus and order my burgers…then drive down (again…on said tookus) and pick them up via curbside pickup.

I fired up the browser and landed on Mooyah’s website and easily found the ‘order online’ option and started placing my order. I entered my zip code, then selected my local store.

Then…I was presented with an ‘order setup’ option that looked like the screenshot below  – notice the content inside the red box:

So….I could either pick up my order or I could do something else…but I’m not sure what. Clicking in the box, I realized it was for a phone number, so i entered my phone number.

Then went ahead and clicked through to the next screen…and got an error message (below).

So…I tried again and this time I got through to an ordering screen.

I entered order #1. Then Order #2. Easy Peasy.

Then, I was asked to sign in or sign up for an account. After many attempts, I finally got my profile filled out.

Now…it was time to checkout…10 minutes after I started the checkout process.

And had my credit card declined. Tried again. Same thing. Weird.  So..I tried another card. and another.  All declined.

After the last credit card was declined, I think i said something that wasn’t appropriate for polite company.

After 15 minutes of trying to order, I was frustrated and hungry. I had wasted 15 minutes of my life trying to order a couple of stupid hamburgers.

I decided to get into my car and go down to the Mooyah and place an order to go…but half-way there, I decided to not give them a dime of my money and went to a Sonic instead.

The next day – an email was sent and a phone call made to the company….with no response.

More than a rant

This is more than a rant.  This is learning opportunity for all of us.

If you are going to offer a service like this, make sure it works.  In all my searching, I couldn’t find another burger joint close to my house that offered the option to order online…that’s a differentiator for Mooyah that they used against themselves.

Here was a burger joint using technology to allow a customer to order in the way that made that customer most comfortable….and that ordering system doesn’t work.  Not only did it not work, it took way too long to setup an order and place it.

I would have been perfectly fine placing an order over the phone and going to pick it up – but they offered me an online ordering system….so I used it.

Mooyah’s intentions were good…they just don’t have the system(s) in place to deliver.

The moral of this story – Don’t use technology just to use technology. If you do…you may end up loosing a customer or customers over it.  Mooyah went from being our favorite burger joint to being a place that I’m ranting about.

Oh…and those Sonic burgers…much better than Mooyah’s.  By far.

Image Credit: RANT, this way By Nesster on flickr


Not What, but How – Connecting IT and the Business

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.
People Behind Us In Hyde Park By rileyroxx on flickrBill Laberis had an interesting article on the Enterprise CIO Forum in late April titled Connecting IT and the business. In the article, Bill points to the latest State of the CIO survey and that survey’s two top priorities for CIO’s in the next three to five years.

These priorities, according to Bill are simple: “driving business innovation” and “identifying opportunities for competitive differentiation”

Sounds like great priorities…..and ones that every CIO would agree with but also ask how to get a real handle on how to attack these priorities.

In his article, Bill reports on the response of Ralph Loura, the CIO of Clorox who claims that there are two critical paths to reach these goals. They are:

One is to take the steps necessary to prove IT’s true value as a business enabler. And the other is to move aggressively to embed IT directly into the business.

Both are definitely critical paths…..and both important for any CIO / organization to attempt to undertake.

But…the question still exists.  How?

How do we show the business value of IT?  How do we embed IT into the business?

Great questions.

Loura continues with some excellent (excellent) insight:

“In IT we’ve rewarded and trained people to be risk averse…to build very stable, very controlled systems. Try to tell those same people: Now your job is to run as fast as you can and as be as agile as you can and as creative as you can to help solve some challenges at the edge of the business, as opposed to the core of the business. It definitely takes a different kind of person to really want to run at that front edge, bringing technology to the business.

Emphasis mine.

Love it.  Finally a CIO focused on the real issue at hand…..the issue of the people.  Its not technology nor process…its the people.

IT professionals have been trained to be risk averse. IT professionals have been trained to focus on control.  In order to really create value and allow the organization to use technology for ‘competitive differentiation’, the IT group must become faster and more agile (not necessarily Agile) – which are two things that are hampered by risk aversion and a control focus.

So…before IT can show and deliver value…we have to focus on ourselves and our people.  How can a CIO show value to the organization if they have trouble showing their own people the value their individuality and creativity bring to the IT team and organization?

So…in order to get started down the critical paths of the ‘what’ of “driving business innovation” and “identifying opportunities for competitive differentiation“, CIO’s need to first focus on the people that will be asked to drive innovation and competitive differentiation. Many processes are built into the IT world to do nothing but control individuality and creativity…..finding ways to still have workable processes while also allowing more innovation is the real trick for the CIO.

To do that, focus on your people.  Give your people the freedom to find new ways to do things. Reach out to the organization and ask for ideas on how to improve things.  Focus on the people rather than the technology or process and you might find the road to innovation and differentiation is easier than you thought.

Focus on your people, and maybe…just maybe…the ‘how’ will start showing itself.

Image Credit: People Behind Us In Hyde Park By rileyroxx on flickr

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

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