The word “busy” has become ubiquitous in the business world. It is equal parts an explanation, an apology, and a defense. For IT, it has long been a go-to phrase.
I am worried about the overuse of the word “busy”. “Busy” seems to have become the standard response for any inquiry about IT. I don’t doubt that IT organizations aren’t busy, but if IT is always busy, I worry about what it means for the future of IT. Unless something changes, IT will be so busy that it will find itself with nothing to do. The organization will not wait for IT to become less busy – the organization will move ahead without IT.
Anyone who has worked with an IT department will recognize the look of a frazzled, stressed out CIO. She is constantly running in and out of meetings, putting out fires and desperately trying to “catch up.” Some busy CIOs often find that they spend most of their time in “reaction mode”.
The problem with being in a constant state of reaction is that the CIO never seems to have the time to strategize or innovate or think big. Being in a constant state of reaction means that CIOs are always solving yesterday’s problems. You can’t be a leader if you can’t get ahead and you can’t get ahead if your focus is on yesterday.
You may be thinking that IT professionals will be able to leverage technology to avoid busyness and, to a certain degree, I agree. But with newer technology, higher customer expectations, and an ever-increasing reliance on data, IT is trying to balance more work than ever. And technology by itself is not the answer for having balance.
But there is a difference between having a heavy workload and being so busy that you can’t get ahead. “Busy” becomes a death knell for IT when it becomes an excuse. And this excuse is not always intentional. The workload for IT can become all-encompassing and it’s easy to be unable to see through it.
This is where a great IT leader can emerge. Great leaders can see the future, despite the demands of day to day work. Great leaders choose to focus on solving future problems and does the things today that lead to solving those future problems. The difference between an IT leader who struggles and an IT leader who thrives is the ability to see past the day to day fires and into the greater needs of the organization.
So how can IT leaders create the space they need to be proactive, innovative, and future-focused?
First, a leader must be willing to create this space. It is very easy to fall into the trap of “busy” and assume that you’ll have the opportunity to plan, strategize, and innovate next month or next quarter or next year. Things will not change without making the conscious decision that something must change.
It’s not as simple as just adding additional resources, bringing in partners, or outsourcing parts of the IT organization. These actions will only serve to put a band-aid on the issue. Taking these actions will only create the illusion that IT suddenly has the additional capacity or that the issues that caused IT to be “too busy” have been addressed.
So, what is the answer? Rather than manage the IT “supply”, manage the IT demand. The organization must understand the demand it is placing on IT. It may even mean reducing the demand on IT to enable IT to improve on time-to-value targets that it simply cannot meet due to excessive demand.
Running IT must change from a supply and demand approach to a demand and supply approach. Rather than continue to try to match the supply of IT to demand, the approach must change to match demand for IT to supply. In other words, rather than trying to force demand for IT into a limited supply, the demand for IT drives supply. This may look like a subtle difference, but it represents a significant shift in the way many organizations interact with their IT departments. Demand for IT must drive capacity – not expose the capacity limitations of IT. And if the organization does not want to increase capacity, then it must limit demand.
Yes, DevOps and Scrum are demand-driven approaches. But unless the entire organization adopts an agile approach, it is only a local optimization – IT is optimizing only what IT does – and local optimizations are not sustainable. I would even argue that such an approach will likely increase the demand on already-constrained resources. DevOps and Scrum only help IT react to demand – it does little to influence or control that demand.
What will it take to shift to a demand-driven approach to IT?
First, IT must be elevated from being viewed as a technical support function to a strategic business partner. This will require a mind shift – both from the executive perspective as well as the IT perspectives –. With technology now such an integral part of every part of every business, IT has to be involved and directly present in the strategic planning of the organization.
If IT isn’t already doing so, IT must develop and maintain its service portfolio. Just like the enterprise is maintaining a product and services portfolio to facilitate good decision-making, the IT portfolio depicts how investments in IT relate to business outcomes and value co-creation. Additionally, the IT portfolio also illustrates on-going operational costs, or the cost of the “care and feeding” of existing solutions that are often overlooked when organizations take on new initiatives The IT portfolio is a crucial tool in helping the organization understand current demand as well as the impact of new or potential demand.
Lastly, organizations must commit to the effective governance of IT to ensure that the organization achieves its desired outcomes. In 2013, Cognizant stated that more than 50% of IT investments are wasted or failed to deliver expected returns to the organization. Effective IT governance results in improved organizational risk management and alignment of IT investments with organizational objectives. When it comes to demand, effective IT governance balances resources, ensuring adequate IT support is available for current and future IT demand.
This shift will require commitment from the C-suite, especially from the CEO and the CFO. Executives may not understand why managing IT demand will help them move faster into the future. In order to explain this, CIOs need to understand the business priorities, outcomes and how technology impacts them. This means meeting demand with the appropriate capacity and capability, IT wants to help the organization succeed, but in order to do that and not miss out on market opportunities, the demand for IT must be met with the appropriate capacity and capability. Simply scaling up demand cannot be the way forward.
This idea of managing demand may sound unrealistic, but it actually is the best path toward the future. The other option, of course, is for IT organizations to continue being “too busy”. Taking this route means that IT will end up staying busy until the C-suite gets fed up that IT can’t take on more work. While “busy is good”, if IT is too busy, IT will end up busying itself out of relevance in the organization.Share