Does IT Agility Equate to Business Survival?

IT Agility Key to Survival?I’ve been writing about agility within the data center and IT group recently. I truly believe the future of IT (and the business) requires that those of us in IT rethink how and what we deliver to our organizations.

While reading a white paper titled “Agile IT Empowers Business Success”, I ran across an intriguing sentence:  “If the business can’t adapt, it may not survive.“ I’d actually change that to say that, in most instances, if a business can’t adapt, it will not survive.

To enable a business to adapt, a business must take a look at a all aspects of their business. They need to look at systems, technology, processes, people and the culture of the business. While the entire business needs to be analyzed and transformed, one of the focal points for any organization should be their IT group.

In order to drive this adaptability, organization’s require both an agile business and an agile IT group, which is something I wrote a bit about last week.  In that previous post, I argue that the IT group must transform itself into an efficient and agile group in order to help the business become more agile.

I’ll go a step further and say that the IT group must be one of the leaders of the transformative change throughout the business.  Adapting to the fast-changing business environment today requires a great deal of technological agility so it makes sense to have the IT group be at the forefront of this change.

This type of transformation isn’t an easy undertaking. It requires an organization take a look at all aspects of their business including processes, technology, systems, people and culture.  While I’ll leave the ‘people’ and ‘culture’ topics for others to work through, the processes, technology and systems fall squarely in the wheelhouse of the IT group.

One of the areas that can be reviewed fairly easily for agility (or lack thereof) is the data center.  The data center is the backbone of the modern organization and, as such, plays a large role in determining how agile and adaptable the business can be. If that data center cannot provide the agility needed for today’s fast-paced environment, the business will suffer.

Some organizations are hesitant to undertake a transformative project like this due to the costs. While there can be large initial costs to replace legacy systems or build out new capabilities, these costs can usually be recouped in a short time from lower operational and management costs throughout the following years.

In order for companies to survive and thrive in the future, their data centers and their IT groups will need to be operating from an agile mindset. No longer can the CIO and IT group be comfortable in their old legacy systems and thinking – they must develop and maintain an agile approach to the business to allow that business to survive.

This post is brought to you by Symantec and The Transition To The Agile Data Center.

The IT Group as Cost Center – Or Innovation Center?

Cost CenterMark Thiele published a post recently titled “Why we Value IT Incorrectly – Innovation vs Cost Center.”  You should go read it.

If you don’t follow Mark’s writing on his blog or twitter, you should…he has some great insights into IT , IT leadership, the data center and many other aspects of the IT group..

While Mark’s entire post is great, I wanted to point out one particular paragraph from Mark’s post and make a few comments about it. Mark writes that:

Why isn’t IT expected to live up to a higher standard in demonstrating the benefits of projects and being more innovative in applying IT to the task of creating business value? I don’t think IT is expected to live to a higher standard because again, the average C-Suite doesn’t expect anything other than cost and risk management.

I’ve been asking that question for years. I’ve asked it at every company I’ve worked at and asked it of every CIO, CEO, COO and VP I could find.  The answer usually tended to be something along the lines of “because IT is a cost center”.

What poppycock! (I’ve been waiting a long time to use ‘poppycock).  IT isn’t a cost center! Or at least it shouldn’t be.

Maybe IT could be called a cost center in the past when IT was just a ‘cost of doing business’ but not today.Technology IS the backbone of business today and is the driving force behind most of the innovations that have happened over the last few years.

With this in mind, why do companies still view IT as a cost center?  Is it because companies still don’t really understand technology? Or…is it because the IT group hasn’t done enough to make the case for no longer being a cost center? Or is it because it is easier to remain a cost center and fly ‘under the radar’?

For most organizations and CIO’s, I’d argue its that middle option I provided above. Most CIO’s have done a poor job of ‘selling’ the value of their organization.  Either they don’t know how to sell the value of their team or don’t want to. Regardless of the answer, many CIO’s are comfortable remaining a cost center.

That comfort is why many CIO’s are being sidelined today. Those sidelined CIO’s are complaining about the fact that they don’t feel ‘included’ but most have put themselves on the sidelines by not driving change within their teams and within their organizations.

Mark ended his post with a very good comment. He wrote:

Plant the seeds of innovation, hire the right people, accept some level of risk, don’t be afraid to make tough decisions in real time, and maximize the opportunity that is locked up in information technology. This doesn’t mean you do everything internally, and it doesn’t mean the opposite. What it means is that your teams learn to accept the notion that innovative thinking can come from anywhere; how you leverage it is what is really important.

Well said Mark.

Building an Agile IT Group

Building an Agile IT GroupLike the data center in most organizations, IT groups have been undergoing a transformation over the last few years. IT leaders have constantly been on the lookout for new systems, technologies, people and skills to meet the ‘do more with less’ mantra while continuing to build out the capabilities required of their teams.

Thankfully, CIO’s have had the good fortune that cloud computing and virtualization were available to help transform IT operations and the data center. Combining these new technologies in innovative ways has allowed organizations to cut costs, improve flexibility and just generally ‘do more with less.’

Virtualization has allowed organizations to expand their data center capabilities without requiring enormous outlays of capital for new hardware and physical space by allowing companies to decommission underutilized servers and replace them with optimized virtualized systems.

Similarly, the cloud has given organizations access to an almost limitless amount of processing and storage power with low costs, relatively high reliability and a great deal of agility. Companies have been able to quickly and efficiently expand data center capabilities with little capital expenditure or long term commitments by turning to cloud vendors and platforms.

Both virtualization and cloud computing have completely transformed data center planning and operations. They’ve also planted the seeds of change within the IT group itself by forcing IT professionals to think more about adding business value rather than narrowly focusing on the technologies they are managing and implementing.

Many organizations have been pushing data center transformation projects while neglecting the transformation of the IT group itself. These companies have transformed (or are working to transform) their data centers from a monolithic, underutilized liability to an agile and valuable asset, but they’ve often failed to push agility as a core concept for IT professionals working within their IT groups.

In order to continue to improve and provide value, CIO’s need to be thinking about their people as well as their technology and systems. They need to think about how to include concepts like agility, business value, cross-training and laser focus on customer satisfaction into the fabric of the IT group.

While I can’t provide a ‘recipe’ for CIO’s to use to create an agile IT group, I have provided a few guidelines that have worked for me (and others) in the past. These guidelines are:

  • Focus on the User: Many times, IT is given a set of requirements and they go off to build a system to meet those requirements. Rarely do we take a step back to look at the requirements from the user’s point of view. Rarely do we spend more than a few minutes talking to the actual end users who have commissioned the work. Rarely do we see the stress and strain they are under to do their jobs. A focus on the user will help IT professionals understand the need for agility and flexibility in their jobs.
  • Rethink your Operational Delivery Model: Use the cloud and virtualization to rethink and rebuild your delivery capabilities so that your team can more easily say “yes” when asked for help from the business. If your IT staff can say “yes” easily, it will become second nature for them to continue to say ‘yes’ whenever they can. And saying “yes” is what agility is all about.
  • Invest in Skills and Training: If you want your team to change, you really need to focus on training and skill development to ensure your team has the capabilities and knowledge to perform their jobs in a fast-paced environment like an agile IT group.
  • Cultivate and Eliminate: Cultivate the skills, ethics and abilities that you want to see in your agile team while eliminating those that you don’t. This may mean hiring and firing but not everyone is cut out for an agile IT group so you shouldn’t try to force people to ‘fit.’

In order to compete in the future, CIO’s and IT professionals need to remain agile. They’ll need to continue building the agile data center but they’ll need to also focus on building an agile team to get the most use from the agile data center.

This post is brought to you by Symantec and The Transition To The Agile Data Center.

The Future of IT is a Converged Future

2854305903_b4792caec9 This post is brought to you by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP’s Make It Matter.

The business world today is one of constant change and growth. No where is that more visible than within the data center. Today, the CIO and IT group are working harder than ever to keep their data center running efficiently and optimally. Not only is IT working to keep their data center running to cover business needs for today, but they’re also tasked with delivering delivering new technologies and systems that the business will need in the future.

Delivering today’s requirements and building for tomorrow’s needs is nothing new for the IT group. That’s part of the job, but recently there’s been more challenges facing organizations. The challenge today is the speed and scale at which the data center and technological requirements are changing.

Many data centers today are already operating at capacity. Those that aren’t are most likely being considered for data center consolidation projects which will lead to more capacity and utilization issues. The data center is shrinking while also being tasked with delivering ‘more’.

In order to deliver ‘more’, IT needs to find a way to work around the constraints that exist within their current data center(s). In the past, IT has looked to virtualization as a means to work around many of their data center constraints to scale quickly and efficiently but even virtualization has its limits. With virtualization, IT needs to find room for a server (or a find a server with capacity) and then have plenty of room for network and storage expansion.

While virtualization has played a huge role in allowing organizations to scale their data centers, the next big step for IT is to use converged systems. With converged systems, you can roll out new capacity and/or change existing capacity and be confident that the new systems are going to work immediately with little to no customization required.

Converged systems allow organizations to bring scale into the data center quickly and cost effectively by allowing a fully managed system to be implemented giving data center managers the ability to view and manage the system as a whole rather than as multiple disparate systems. With the converged infrastructure approach, organizations are able to quickly add scale to their data centers without needing to rip and replace their existing systems or add to the existing systems utilization rates.

Converged systems aren’t the answer to every problem in the data center, but they can be an answer for scaling the data center. They allow organizations to easily scale to deliver the new systems, functionality, processing power and storage requirements to meet the data center needs of the future.

Image Credit: Two Roads Converged

This post is brought to you by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP’s Make It Matter.

Staying Relevant as a CIO

relevantI received an email this week pointing me to a nice article over on The Enterprisers Project titled “CIO’s: Stay Relevant With This Advice From 7 Veteran IT Executives“. The article leads to a downloadable PDF that describes a roundtable discussion between the following IT veterans:

  • Cynthia Stoddard, NetApp CIO
  • John Marcante, Vanguard CIO and Managing Director
  • Peter Buonora, BJ’s Wholesale Club Enterprise Architect
  • Eamon O’Kelly, Vice President of IT for Scheider Electric’s North America
  • Rajesh Wunnava, Senior Director of Global Information Services, Warner Music Group
  • Curt Carver, Vice Chancellor and CIO of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia
  • Cliff Tamplin, Consultant and Former Vice President of Technology Support and Risk Management, Hyatt Hotels Corporation

Some of the highlights  from the discussion are provided below along with my comments.

Cynthia Stoddard –  I think a CIO needs to question their own operating style. If you don’t willingly jump in and think about how you are going to keep IT relevant from multiple perspectives (business and IT), then you will be relegated to that ‘back office’ type of CIO and eventually risk having you and your organization minimized.

It is refreshing to see a CIO say this. I’ve been saying the same thing for years here on the blog (see my post titled The Diminshing Role of the CIO and IT as an example). If the CIO wants to be relevant in the future, they’ve got to make IT relevant to the business by working on business issues…not technology issues.

John Marcante – start by partnering with a tech-savvy business leader who is eager to innovate. Measure the value you generate together through time and create some healthy competition among other leaders.

If you, as the CIO or IT leader, are having trouble showing the value your team can bring to the business, finding a group within the organization and kicking off some projects together may be a way to start building IT’s reputation as a business team and not a technology team.

Cliff Tamplin – people always talk about IT being off in its own little world. But in most organizations, there are an awful lot of departments that are also off in their own little worlds. So it’s not a question of building a relationship with a single “the business” because at most companies I’ve worked at, there is no “the business.”

I’m guilty of saying that IT is in its own world, as are a lot of you. Cliff is right…every group is in their own world unless they force themselves out into the worlds of others. That’s what the CIO must do…pave the way into the other groups to make sure conversations are occurring and that each team within the organization knows how easily it is to reach out and work with the IT group.

Rajesh Wunnava – You’ve got to get out of the model where your business partners brief you on things and then they go away and come back after three months and expect that everything is working perfectly.  Those days are gone. Innovation is a messy process. It’s not a perfect process so you’ve got to engage your business partners actively.

I love this. It is exactly the mindset that everyone IT are order takers. The IT group needs to be out front leading the way with innovation and helping other groups within the organization use technology to solve their problems.

Peter Buonora – …as long as that person is a leader in their organization who is going to lead the organization through technology change and driving the right business value, it doesn’t matter what the title is.

While Peter was talking about the CTO, CIO and BIO (Business Information Officer) roles. the same can be said for any role. In my opinion, this is one of the drivers for the CMO vs CIO debate we’ve been seeing for a while. In many instances, the CMO has taken the lead in driving change and business value using technology.

Curt Carver – The services have to run flawlessly before you move into business process innovation. Once you get a foothold there and that starts cranking, you can start moving into more strategic types of conversations

There’s a lot to say about this one. If you as the CIO can’t deliver an IT group and IT services that just work, how will the rest of the organization accept you as someone who should be involved in the larger, big picture conversations? In order to move away from being operationally focused, the CIO must show that they can actually do the operational aspects of IT well.

Eamon O’Kelley – Unless we really know how they make money, then I don’t think we can really engage in the conversation and push our technology model to build their business.

Eamon’s comment was in response to a question directed at him regarding how he had recently gone ‘out into the field’ to talk to clients.  I love this comment too…it shows the need for the CIO and IT group to understand the business and the clientele of the business in order to truly deliver the right technology solutions.

The roundtable discussion is a great look into how a few IT veterans are helping their organizations to deliver value and turn the IT group into something more than an operational group.    Although accessing the roundtable discussion requires providing your email address, I’d highly recommend you jump over and download it as there are some great insights from these IT veterans.

Links for July 13 2014

Innovators overcome the can’ts
Quote: Merely recognizing the can’ts and addressing them in advance can help, but that’s not enough.  Doubt and prior experience always creep back in, so even if you can stymie the can’ts early on, you’ll need to constantly fight the same battles throughout an innovation activity.  Because while the innovation team may be on board to resist the can’ts, often others that they need data, information or assistance from haven’t been inoculated, and their doubts can infect the team again.

Why Healthcare IT Spending Needs to Shift Its Focus
Quote:  Most healthcare IT spending emphasize architecture and electronic health records. This has the dual effect of adding little value and leaving little room for transformative innovation. With healthcare’s business model on the verge of being turned upside down, this spending trend must change.

Immigration Is Changing Much More Than the Immigration Debate
Quote:The immigration debate, now as then, focuses primarily on illegal immigration from Latin America. Yet most new immigrants aren’t Latinos. Most Latinos aren’t immigrants. And, based on the best available evidence, there are fewer undocumented immigrants in the U.S. today than there were in 2007. Even the latest immigration crisis — a sudden influx of unaccompanied minors, for which President Barack Obama requested $4 billion in emergency funding to address on Tuesday — represents a break from past patterns: The children are from Central America, not Mexico, and are primarily escaping violence in their home countries, rather than seeking jobs in the U.S.

No, *I’ll* tell you the answer!
Quote: When are you going to stop, take a breath, think quietly, shut out the cacophony of expectations and press releases and chest-thumping and “disruption” and biased storytelling, and decide what’s right for you?

Why The Cloud You Want Is Not The Cloud You Deserve
Quote: very enterprise wants to be Amazon these days. Tempted by the promise of cheap, elastic cloud computing, companies are rolling out OpenStack and other private cloud solutions, certain that they’re building a winged unicorn. In reality, many of them are building a donkey.

The Path of Our Lives
Quote: As far as we know, this life isn’t practice for the next one. For entrepreneurs the key to living this one to the fullest is the understanding that you can choose – that you do have a choice to effect the journey and change the rules, that you can decide to give it your best shot to do something, something extraordinary.

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