Tag Archives: leadership

How to Master the Art of IT Partnerships

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As businesses continue to become more reliant on technology, more and more organizations have formed partnership ecosystems. Bringing in and working with multiple partners is a smart way to deliver better experiences with optimized costs and capabilities. 

While there are many pros to working with partners — there are some drawbacks as well. Operations become increasingly complex as a partnership ecosystem grows. Regardless, end users will still expect a seamless experience, and the more partners you work with, the harder it could become to maintain that smooth experience. 

This article will address how CIOs can effectively manage those IT partnerships and set up their organizations for success in a partnership ecosystem.   

Partners vs. Suppliers and Vendors

You’ll notice that I refer to “partners” and not “suppliers” or “vendors”. That’s intentional verbiage. In order to succeed in this new paradigm, CIOs need to evolve from working with vendors and suppliers in a strictly transactional sense. Strategic partners are vendors that have go above and beyond effective delivery of systems and services – they commit to helping the CIO achieve the organizational goals of the company. 

The difference between “partner” and “supplier” has become increasingly noticeable due to COVID-19. Many CIOs saw partners be more proactive in their relationships by reaching out to see how they could better assist organizations during the pandemic. 

The best partners recognize that a business relationship is about more than making a sale. It’s about building a relationship where they understand the customer’s business models and the inner workings of the company. They don’t just execute on the customer’s demands, they work with the customer to find mutually beneficial solutions. 

When Badly Managed Partnerships Happen to Good Organizations

Why should you care about managing your partnerships? When does a vendor need to be a partner? 

Silo mentality has been a frequent roadblock within many organizations –  and IT is no stranger to them. Internal silos can wreak havoc on workflows and efficiencies. When IT isn’t looped into the full scope of projects and how the rest of the organization is driving value, they are often left to catch up — and end-users always suffer. And that’s just with internal silos! 

Compound that with the fact that more organizations are reducing staffing yet increasing demand for technology. This means more outsourcing and external support.  But without a shared and agreed approach to delivering that support, IT organizations could easily find themselves in a chaotic situation.  

Finding the Right Partners

Of course, there are many vendors simply parading as partners –  so how do you know what to look for in a partner? The most important thing is not to rush into a relationship or make a decision based solely on price. Yes, it can be time-consuming to get referrals and do your due diligence when evaluating potential partners. Start off with your trusted circle of IT leaders. Other leaders are often the best source of knowledge of who is a great partner and who simply delivers a product. 

Once you have your shortlist of partners from your own research and recommendations from peers, it’s time to start establishing connections. Remember that the right partner doesn’t start the conversation about themselves or their product – they will want to first talk about your goals and objectives.

Perhaps more importantly though, you have to view a potential partnership for what it is — a partnership, not a vendor-client relationship. It’s important to not view the potential partner as just a fulfiller of work. During those initial discussions, you have the responsibility of clearly defining expectations, challenges, organizational dynamics, and the goals of your organization. Don’t limit your conversations to specifically IT or the initiatives for a particular tool or product. IT is crucial to the success of any business so any IT partner needs to have a clear picture of that business. 

This will give the partner the opportunity to create a better strategy for delivering the right products and services for helping you achieve your goals. 

How to Better Manage Your Partners 

The best partnerships happen because they’re built on trust, respect, and mutual understanding. So there is a level of “people-work” that has to go into any of these relationships. But there are some ways you can better structure your organization so your partnerships will be more successful. 

  • Keep the lines of communication open. 

 

Far too often, supplier check-ins are just quick reviews of operational metrics or updates on the tasks completed during a timeframe. These types of communications aren’t sufficient in a partner relationship – in fact, this is a disadvantage to you and your partners! You want your team to be actively communicating with your partners about what’s happening in your organization so they can continue to get a clear vision of the overall picture of your organization.

 

  • Establish transparent workflows for all your partners.

 

This might be difficult because your partners likely have their own workflows. But working with them to establish a shared process that all partners follow makes for a smoother experience for your entire organization. Again, this might be a difficult ask and could take some time to develop, but the right partners will be willing to engage in defining workflows that work for your organization.

 

  • Get your internal teams and stakeholders to see partners as part of the team

 

Silo mentality doesn’t work — even when those silos are made up of full-time employees and contractors. Your internal departments and teams should feel empowered to be a part of the partner-IT relationship. You want everyone in your organization to know and trust your partners. This might mean bringing other departments to meetings with external partners or looping your external partners into existing initiatives with other departments.  

Introducing Service Integration and Management 

If you are looking for a better way to integrate your partnerships, Service Integration and Management (SIAM) might be the best option for you. SIAM is a management methodology that is growing in popularity. SIAM will provide an organization with governance, coordination, assurance, and integration for working with outside partners by introducing a “service integrator” role. If you’re working with multiple vendors, suppliers, and partners, SIAM can enhance the experience for everyone within your organization and for suppliers and partners working with your organization.  

If you’re curious about introducing SIAM or improving your partner relationships, I’d love to discuss how to prepare your organization to thrive in a multi-partner ecosystem.

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Are You Inviting Trouble? 7 Signs You’re Attracting Chaos to IT

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CIOs are no strangers to chaos. Working in IT means you’ve dealt with your fair share of chaotic moments. Technology has an annoying habit of not working properly – even when everything seems to be set up correctly. IT pros have had to learn to keep their cool when the tech just isn’t working — and the end user is feeling the frustration.

Being able to handle chaos is a skill every leader must develop. But long-term success working in a continual state of chaos can cause problems. Chaos can cause a surge of adrenaline and some people begin to subconsciously crave that adrenaline rush they feel from chaotic moments. When that happens, they may start to create situations that result in chaos and can cause those adrenaline rushes. The best example of this would be a student who consistently procrastinates on their assignments because they feel they “work better under pressure”.

Is it really possible that accomplished professionals and industry leaders can repeat the same mistakes that a college student would make? Absolutely! Stress naturally spikes cortisol levels, which is the built-in alarm system in your body. That spike in cortisol is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s our “fight or flight” instinct and it plays a number of roles in our body. Specifically, it boosts energy so you can handle stress and then will restore the balance afterward.

Many driven and ambitious people love that energy boost and thrive on the tension that a challenge creates. After all, meeting and overcoming those challenges is how they found success!

But if you find your IT organization in a constant state of chaos, it might be time to check in to see if you’re causing it and making more trouble than IT needs. Here are 7 signs you’re attracting chaos to your IT organization.

You’re working in a vacuum

Siloed thinking and poor communication habits can cause many problems for an IT organization. Many technologists do not focus on their communication or collaboration skills. In many organizations, IT has been seen as unwelcoming and isolated. When you tune out other departments and their needs and don’t include them in solution designs, you end up with workflows that aren’t followed, products that aren’t used to their fullest capabilities, and too many “last minute” requests that cause stress.

You don’t communicate in business terms

Learning to speak the language of the business is one of the most important things a CIO can do. Without describing – in business, not technical terms – how IT solutions fit in to business objectives, you’ll spend a lot of time and effort defending your initiatives, shifting initiatives at the last minute, and potentially working on initiatives that don’t contribute to needed business outcomes. Once you start mastering how IT and technology contribute to business objectives, you can position your initiatives in a better light, and this will decrease resistance from the C-suite.

You have shiny object syndrome

Everyone needs the newest, fastest, shiniest technology, right?! No, they don’t. Non-technologists and leaders in the C-suite might always be pushing you to invest in new technologies, in the belief that those technologies will instantly solve every business challenge. But without proper analysis of the challenge that needs to be solved, this mistaken belief in bright and shiny new technologies will only keep IT and the rest of the organization spinning in circles. You will experience the tension and challenge of continually deploying and training on new technologies – and be blamed when those new technologies don’t address the problem that needed solving. And you’ll spend a lot of money on tools that “don’t work”.

IT success isn’t clearly defined

How is IT success being defined? Often IT success is defined only as delivering projects on-time and within budget. But that definition ignores IT’s contributions to business objectives and the organization’s bottom line. By defining IT success in terms of business results and bottom-line impact, the CIO becomes a strategic leader in the company, and IT becomes a valued partner within the organization, not perceived as a necessary, but expensive, cost center. By failing to establish IT success measures in terms of organizational success, you’ll spend time and energy on hitting metrics that don’t properly elevate the CIO or IT.

Pushing change at the wrong pace

Accelerated timelines can be common in IT organizations – but are they realistic? CIOs are often operating under unrealistic expectations (see above) and therefore trying to force innovation without laying the proper groundwork. This can sometimes feel like running straight on into a brick wall and expecting it to topple over on the first try. You will quickly burnout and exit out if you push change at an unreasonable pace. Instead, CIOs need to set realistic expectations with the C-suite regarding the pace of change and establish realistic and achievable milestones to show that digital transformation is on its way.

You spend all your time putting out fires

Are you constantly involved in every little fire that comes up within IT? If you can’t rely on your team to handle the day-to-day fires that will always exist in IT so you can free up your time to focus on the bigger picture and strategic initiatives, then you are contributing to that chaos. I’m not saying that you should ignore those fires, but as CIO, you have to trust your team to handle the day-to-day work and provide coaching and support to get IT out of fire-fighting and into leading business innovation. Your time is better spent focused on solving the bigger business challenges within the organization.

You ignore the foundations of your IT organization

Foundations can be boring. They do not cause stress or any excitement when (if?) you think about them but having a strong IT foundation is absolutely necessary. The foundations of your IT organization include your workflows, processes, and value streams, and are what keep the wheels of IT turning, even during the chaos. If you ignore the steps it takes to keep your foundations optimized, you will continually get stuck in day-to-day fires and siloed communications which waste your time and your team’s talent.

Having a little bit of chaos can be a good thing. It can inspire innovation and create motivation but it’s a little bit like rainstorms. You want enough of it to keep things growing but you don’t want to live in it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As the CIO, you have the responsibility to balance having that healthy level of chaos in your organization while at the same time, be the calm in the storm. That tension and those cortisol spikes will still come — only this time, it will be because you’re working on bigger challenges that will have a larger impact on the success of your organization.

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CEOs, are you making your CIO sick?

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Here’s a scenario that might sound familiar:

The CEO of a mid-sized organization calls in the CIO because times are desperate. The company needs to deploy new technology to increase revenue — quickly. The organization has already invested in a variety of tools and technology… but it’s not getting the job done. Now the CEO wants the CIO to find the right tool, the one that will help the organization, and it needs to be cheap and it needs to show results quickly. The CIO — who up until this point, has had little opportunity, much less been invited, to interact with other departments to identify needs and pain points with the current toolset. In fact, beyond any initial training and implementation of the current tools, the CIO has been relegated to sitting on the sidelines. But the CEO is convinced that new technology is the answer, and expects the CIO to get it done to get the organization back into the black … and the clock is ticking.

Scenarios similar to this one happen all the time in organizations. The pressure is constantly on the CIO, but she is often not enabled to be proactive or even part of the larger conversations with the business.

For CIOs, it often feels like they’re being given a teaspoon of gas and asked to get the company through the end of the cross-country road trip. They’re being asked enormous tasks with little budget or agency over previous decisions. They’re damned if they do — and damned if they don’t.

And this happens over and over! The CIO constantly jumps through hoops… only to land and then have to run back around to jump through it all over again. It’s no wonder that CIO position has one of the highest turnover rates among the C-suite, with an average tenure of just 4 years, according to TechTarget.

The relationship between the CIO and CEO has been fraught in the past and unfortunately in some organizations, that hasn’t improved. Even as the CIO becomes more influential and valued within the organization, many CEOs are still stressing out their CIOs!

For many organizations, there’s a gap in what the CEO expects and what the CIOs need to be able to deliver on those expectations. The CEO is the one with the power to bridge the gap. Let’s address those CEO expectations and how CEOs can give CIOs what they need to meet them.

CEO Expectations and CIO Needs

CEO Expectation: Business perspective.
The CEO expects the CIO to be the bridge between technology and the rest of the company. The CIO needs to look ahead and align technical benefit with the initiatives of the company and tailoring systems to meet business needs. This is absolutely critical for success in any business. Every business needs to use technology to its fullest potential and the CIO is the only person who can ensure that is happening. If the CIO and CEO are unable to fully enable the organization with technology, the organization is at risk of losing business to the competition.

CIO Need: Business enablement
In order for the CIO to have a business perspective, the CEO needs to recognize the role the CIO and IT play in business enablement. The CEO must ensure that their CIO is part of developing business strategies and plans. The CIO’s voice in business matters should be just as important as the voices of other leadership roles. That means the CIO has to be involved from the beginning of strategy conversations, instead of at the end of them.


CEO Expectation: Leadership
CEOs expect CIOs to be self-starters. The CIO needs to be able to motivate their teams and get buy-in from the rest of the organization. Because they often work closely with other members of the organization, the CIO needs to be viewed as an influential member of the organization who can lead the way.

CIO Need: Sponsorship
The CEO can strengthen the CIO’s credibility with peers by providing strategic support. Whether it’s inviting CIOs to strategic meetings or voicing their support of a CIO’s decision, the CEO can help the CIO attain the needed credibility to influence the organization. The CEO can also help the CIO form partnerships with external partners by starting introductions or including the CIO in communications.


CEO Expectation: Vision
The CIOs need to see the big picture of the business. CEOs want CIOs to be visionaries who are constantly moving toward the future vision of the business. The CIO has to buy-in to the CEOs vision and help the CEO turn the vision into a reality.

CIO Need: Vision and Strategic Consistency
However, for the CIO to become this visionary, the CEO needs to formally articulate the vision and mission for the company. The CIO will need to interpret how that vision fits into technology strategy, but that vision has to start from the top. Additionally, the CIO needs consistency and clarity in that vision. If the vision or strategy is constantly changing, the CIO won’t be able to create systems or initiatives to sustain it.


CEO Expectation: Innovation
Turning any vision into reality needs an innovative leader. The CIO should be on the cutting edge of all the trends and continually looking for new and better ways to leverage technology to propel the business. But the CIO also needs to be able to balance innovation and risk. She has to be able to explain the cost trade-offs with every innovative initiative.

CIO Need: Challenge
If the CEO wants an innovative CIO, they need to give the CIO those opportunities to be innovative. Challenge the CIO to use her talents on things that matter to the bottom line of the business. Don’t use her as a task rabbit who can simply pull the business over the finish line. Incorporate their expertise at the start of business challenges.


CEO Expectation: ROI
Finally, the CEO expects — and needs — the CIO to enhance ROI margins and profits. The CIO must contribute to the bottom line these days. Technology is inextricably linked to the success of any business today, so the CIO has to think in terms of ROI.

CIO Needs: Flexibility
The CIO can contribute to ROI, but she needs the CEO to understand the challenges of deploying and managing technology – at least at a high level. The CEO needs to give the CIO the chance to explain the complexities and challenges they face and demystify the technology. Then they need to allow them the flexibility to develop different approaches to solving problems. The CEO needs to understand that some IT investments take time to deliver their full potential value and allow the CIO that space to ensure that value is delivered.

In Conclusion

Now, I don’t think CEOs should give CIOs any kind of “favored status” or special accommodations within the C-suite. The CIO doesn’t need to have her hand held, but CEOs do need to consider the impact of their own actions when they review how the CIO is operating. If there is high turnover in the CIO role, perhaps the first place to look is to determine if there are gaps between the CEO expectations and the CIO needs.

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Are You Wasting Last Year’s Success?

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2020 was a historic year for CIOs. Before last year, there had never been a point when nearly every CIO had to completely restructure how their organization did business in just a matter of days — or even a few hours. But that’s what happened thanks to COVID-19.

Seemingly overnight, CIOs turned their organizations into remote companies. Some CIOs were able to accelerate their organization’s digital transformation efforts by years.

It was a tremendous effort, but many CIOs were up to the task – and it resulted in positive changes. According to the 2020 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey, 61% of 4,200 IT leaders reported that the pandemic has permanently increased the influence of technology within the organization.

However, the job of a CIO isn’t over after this win. No one should be sitting back and relaxing because of this success. Now, I’m not saying that any CIOs are simply sitting pretty, just basking in the success of last spring. But it is easy to slip back into a world of managing the daily fires within IT and lose sight of the larger business.

The organization is going to expect more now from the CIO than ever before. Now that the rest of the organization knows the difference a good CIO can make, they are going to want one that is innovative, proactive, and continuing to work for the bigger picture of business success.

Don’t get lost in the day-to-day management of IT and let the successes of 2020 go to waste.

Are you wasting last year’s success?

Here are some things to check to determine if you’re wasting last year’s success:

You haven’t reviewed what you implemented in 2020 to check for gaps.

This is not to take away the accomplishments of IT. The swift change to remote work was an incredible undertaking and if you knocked it out of the park, then you should feel proud of that success. However, that transition was likely rushed and lots of organizations implemented band-aid solutions. No one had any idea that we would still be dealing with the fallout of COVID-19 almost a year after the initial shutdown. It’s entirely possible the solution you implemented was never meant to be a long-term solution. Now’s the time to review those solutions and determine if they’re meeting the needs of your company today. You should also ensure that these solutions match the current business strategy. Did your organization pivot how they deliver value to the customer? Is remote work becoming a permanent part of your organization? How has your company shifted since the original shutdown last March?

You may find that parts of your remote work solutions simply aren’t meeting the needs of your organization anymore. You may need to revisit technology investments or redesign workflows to better fit the current goals and reality of your organization.

You’re ignoring foundational issues in workflows and service delivery.

Remote work is not easy, especially since many team members are working from home with their families and children. Have you addressed the workflows inside and outside of IT since the beginning of the pandemic? And what about service delivery? Have you surveyed colleagues to ensure their technology needs are being met? Workflows naturally shift over time, and with so much upheaval, there is no doubt that work has shifted and that value might not be reaching the end-user. Get an up-to-date view of your workflows to make sure they’re still delivering.

You’re not involved with the customer experience.

If IT has not been brought into the customer experience yet, your organization is already falling behind. 2020 completely changed how products and services are delivered and used by customers and technology played a huge role in that change. One of the many lessons that 2020 taught us was that CIOs and IT have to play a role in creating and managing the customer experience. So if customer experience hasn’t made its way to your “to do” list, it’s time to prioritize that.

You’re not involved in the employee experience.

Much like the customer experience, the employee experience quickly evolved in 2020. IT has always played a chief role in employee experience, but it’s more vital now. Many organizations are working remotely or operating in a hybrid remote/traditional office model. As I mentioned earlier, employees are under a lot of pressure as many are juggling working from home with their personal responsibilities, like managing virtual schooling or sharing home office spaces with their partners and roommates. CIOs and HR must work together to monitor how employees are operating and if they are receiving everything they need to do their jobs now.

You’re not actively engaging with the rest of the organization.

A true leader is not someone who hides out in their office or only deals with their team. For CIOs to maintain the status they achieved during the early days of the pandemic, they must actively engage with every department in the organization. IT is unique in that it is a cross-departmental organization. IT works with every other department within the organization to help them achieve their goals. CIOs must become more of a presence everywhere — and yes, even remotely. If you haven’t met with other department leaders and gotten up to date on their goals and challenges for 2021, it’s time to book some meetings on the calendar.

How to Capitalize on Last Year’s Success

If any of the above scenarios sound familiar to you, it’s ok! The CIO role is evolving and that takes some level of adjustment. But you want to act now if you want to capitalize on last year’s success. Here are some small steps you can take to get started.

Leverage what worked and previous successes.

Continual improvement is even more important right now. Most organizations are in the midst of change and to keep that change positive, you want to leverage the things that worked for you in 2020. Review your wins from 2020 and see how you can either enhance those wins with better service delivery, tightened workflows, or additional technology. Small wins like this can add up.

Look at where there are gaps in service.

As I already mentioned, some solutions implemented last spring were not meant to be long-term – and that’s okay. But now is the time to address it. Instead of thinking of these changes as huge overhauls or that you’re starting from scratch, they can simply be enhancements in your workflow or service delivery. The good news is that you did so much of the heavy lifting last spring when you originally made the switch to remote work.

Communicate and engage with other business leaders.

You earned their respect in 2020. Now it’s time to earn their trust. Other leaders in the business will be more open and inviting to you if you demonstrate that your goal is to help them achieve their goals. No other leader wants to feel like they have to be forced into IT’s workflows or that IT is trying to control their access to tools and technology. You have to prove that IT has moved past being the “Department of No” by being a collaborative partner who works towards the same goals. Start building these relationships one by one and you will create support for any future IT initiative.

I don’t want to diminish the success that IT leaders achieved in 2020. Like I said at the start of this article, 2020 was a banner year. Every CIO had to step up to the plate. But it’s important to check that you’re still taking steps to optimize services and leverage all your success from last year. My hope is that 2020 was just the beginning and that every CIO can keep innovating and playing a vital role in business decisions.

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The Opportunity of Failed IT Plans

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What went wrong in 2020?

I know, it’s a big question and most people would probably say “Everything.” Or at least, many CIOs would confess that the original strategic plans they had for 2020 were not executed.

There were many initiatives that just failed to get off the ground in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Now that 2020 is winding down — what happens to those initiatives? Should you try to execute on them in 2021? Are they even still valuable to your organization? Will you still have the capital for them? How can you afford them?

Smart CIOs know they can’t carry on as normal. Just because something was on the plan for 2020 doesn’t mean it should continue to be on it for 2021. Yes, strategic projects are still strategic, but it’s time to address whether the strategy has changed. If it has, the CIO has to know how to protect IT’s budget while shifting initiatives.

This is where the opportunity of a failed plan presents itself and where innovative CIOs can reset their priorities, align themselves with the rest of the organization, and ensure budget protection for 2021.

Revisit Your Organization’s Existing Strategic Plan

First, it’s important to understand what impact COVID-19 has had on your organization. This means more than just a workforce that is now working remotely. How did it impact the way your business operates and delivers value to customers? Did business models change? Did you add any new capabilities that are still contributing to ROI?

Now look at your existing IT strategic plan. Does it incorporate the changes made because of the impact of COVID-19?

It’s possible you could have some major changes to make to the IT strategic plan. For example, if your organization has added new revenue streams, then you may need to completely change the strategic plan to incorporate those new streams.

Look for Opportunities in your Value Streams

As you review what has changed in your organizations, you should also be identifying the opportunities for IT inside of this new strategy.

This exercise is best if you know the value streams in your organization (whether they are brand new as a result of COVID or they were already in place). If you don’t know the value streams of your organization, then now is the time to map them along with other members of the executive teams.

Remember, this is a chance for meaningful, impactful change. It’s no longer “business as usual.” We can’t say “Well this is the way it’s always been done” because organizations have proven they are capable of agility and making big changes quickly. When mapping value streams and looking for opportunities, don’t be afraid to open up to possibilities that might have seemed impossible a year ago. After all, most people would have said taking an organization completely remote in 48 hours would have been impossible this time last year but by now, most IT organizations have accomplished exactly that!

Fix any Value Leaks

Now, after you’ve reviewed value streams and are fired up about the new strategic projects you could bring to the organization in 2021, there’s a big question to answer: Where do you find the budget for it?

Some IT organizations were fortunate enough to have larger budgets this year while they enabled remote working — but those checkbooks won’t be as open in 2021.

Here’s what you can do right now to protect your budget in 2021

Look for the value leaks in your organization. Value leakage is a common problem in every organization but few leaders know to look for it. Businesses don’t operate on a consistent basis every single day. Value leaks can occur when changes in business workflows aren’t reflected in technology workflows, or people weren’t trained on new products or features, or when services or products aren’t retired appropriately. Value leaks occur due to poor communications, or when the organization fails to fully understand the costs and risks of any change, no matter how slight it may seem. If no one is monitoring value streams and measuring how value is delivered, then value will start getting dropped along the way.

In the context of protecting the budget for 2021, you can start finding and addressing the value leaks that are happening right now in 2020. When you start to fix the leaks, you can prove to the organization that you’re creating more value. The more value you bring to the table, the more you can justify your future budget and protect the budget for those bigger strategic projects you identify when mapping your value streams.

The Key is the Big Picture

The most important thing any CIO can do to seize the opportunity of failed plans is to not lose sight of the bigger picture. 2020 didn’t go to plan for anyone and every organization experienced shifts that will impact future strategies.

Your strategic projects from 2020 might still make sense in 2021. Or they might not. What’s important now is to look at how the organization delivers value to its customers and the opportunities for IT to enable and co-create that value. Then look at how IT can create even more value by fixing existing value leaks.

I think everyone will say that 2020 changed everything. But only the most innovative CIOs will be able to say that 2020 changed everything in the best way possible.

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Are You Winning the IT Participation Trophy?

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IT has gotten a bad rap in the past and I think it’s partially deserved. There are still far too many IT leaders just willing to phone it in. That’s an old way of leading IT and it’s about winning the participation trophy.

You do know what the “participation trophy” is, right?

The participation trophy is often awarded to each player on a youth sports team. It recognizes that the team member showed up to most of the practices and most of the games.

And while that may be an accomplishment, it doesn’t mean (at the risk of being harsh) that anything was won or accomplished. It doesn’t represent an outstanding contribution.

It only means that a player showed up.

Many organizations recognize that IT leaders need to be business leaders who are actively working with the rest of the organization to drive value. Many IT leaders have accepted the challenge and are the business leaders that their organizations need. However, there are still traces of the old way of leading IT around some IT organizations.

Here are the signs that the old way of leading IT is present in your organization.

6 Signs You’re Only Winning the IT Participation Trophy

You measure and publish outputs instead of outcomes

Crossing things off a to-do list and checking off the tasks that IT accomplishes isn’t enough. Everyone produces outputs. Anyone can check off tasks. But the IT leader of today is the one who understands how those outputs lead to the outcomes that drive the business forward.

IT works in a silo

Today’s IT organization can no longer be just a support department. If you’re only working within IT in near-isolation from other departments, then you’re continuing the mistakes of the CIO of the past. IT includes more than technology these days. You can’t simply show up for the technology aspects of business initiatives. Today’s IT is about co-creating value, enabling flow across the entire organization, and leading innovation. IT leaders must work with the rest of the organization on initiatives from start to finish.

Everyone is an adversary

If you see fellow employees as customers and not colleagues, then you’re winning the IT participation trophy. Not everyone is against IT like so many CIOs have believed in the past. Modern CIOs view other departments and leaders within the company as allies. Even when these people have feedback about IT that is hard to hear, you need to treat them as allies who can help you elevate IT. If they didn’t care about your success, they wouldn’t be sharing that difficult feedback.

You’re always playing defense

CIOs holding the participation trophy are always playing defense. They are too worried about protecting themselves from criticism and keeping prying eyes away from IT to be truly effective.

Today’s great CIO now plays offense. They are continually innovating and looking for ways to improve IT, even if that means on occasion having to accept some tough feedback or criticism. They know that experimenting from a position of knowledge, learning from mistakes, and being responsive is more important than protecting IT from criticism.

You selectively use – or avoid – data

Whether it’s good or bad — you need to rely on the data of your IT organization. Picking up the IT participation trophy means you’re focused on what looks good for IT and how you can shine the best light on IT. This means you avoid the data that can show you where you need to fill in the gaps or where you’re leaking value.

You’re on the sidelines in business decisions

IT has traditionally been seen as a support department. Some CIOs are content for it to stay that way, passively accepting whatever the business asks of them, and never really taking an active role in the larger organization-wide initiatives.

Give Up the IT Participation Trophy

If any of this sounds familiar to you, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is there’s plenty of opportunities to give up these bad habits and say goodbye to perpetually winning the participation trophy. The bad news is that you’re going to have to make these changes quickly because technology is evolving by the day and organizations need involved and innovative IT leaders.

So if you want to be more than a participant and instead, be a leader, it starts with changing your own mindset around the power of IT and your own role in IT. Technology plays a vital role in organizations these days and as an IT leader, you have to play just as big of a role. This might mean ditching some previously held beliefs about your role or the way IT has been managed. If you find yourself thinking “but we’ve always done it this way,” that’s a sign that you’re holding onto that participation trophy a little too tightly.

But with a shift of your mindset, you can take the actions that will shift the mindset of those around you. Slowly but surely, you’ll stop winning the participation trophy and instead start your campaign to win the MVP.

Learn more about becoming an innovative CIO by downloading the CIO’s Guide to Navigating Shifting Priorities, which is a bundle of 3 of my most popular webinars for the CIOs who want to advance their organizations in the next 12 months.

Download the CIO’s Guide to Navigating Shifting Priorities.  

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How IT Can Enable Organizations to Make Data-Driven Decisions

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Technology is one of the biggest and most important investments that any organization can make. In the past, many decisions about technology investments were made within the C-suite or demanded by other departments and IT simply complied with those requests.

But as the world has become more dependent on technology, IT has started to play a larger role in influencing technology investments and decisions. I would actually argue that IT should play a major role in helping the organization make good decisions, not just about IT and technology, but also the overall organization. Why?  

Organizations need data to make decisions.  Having the right data at the right time enables the organization to make good decisions.   And who manages the systems and services that produce most of that data?  The IT organization.  Therefore, it only stands to reason that IT should be involved in most organizational decisions.  But for some organizations, this means a mind shift change about the role of IT in decision-making.

The good news is that this shift doesn’t require a bigger budget, more staff, or even the encouragement of upper management. Every IT organization can start making these changes and begin to play a larger role in helping the business make data-driven decisions.

  1. Shift the perception about the value of IT 

This first step is easier said than done, but this needs to be a consistent effort for IT leaders. IT does much more than troubleshooting computer problems and keep everyone connected to WiFi.

But to shift this perception, you must be measuring outcomes not just outputs. Outputs are the actions or activities that an IT organization completes. Outcomes are the results that the business wants or needs to achieve. Outputs contribute to outcomes. They are the activities that IT has accomplished, such as the number of calls to the service desk or number of influencer records. 

The context of driving business value and influencing business decisions, it’s outcomes that matter more than anything. IT has to start thinking and talking in terms of business not in terms of IT. For example, if you were to say “98% availability” this doesn’t mean anything to your business colleagues. But instead, if you shifted your message to say “Provided system available to produce 10,000 products,” they can understand how IT’s work contributes to the bottom line. Look in terms of outcomes then document every outcome that IT helps achieve. Report on those outcomes and share these wins regularly with IT and the rest of the organization.

2. Follow the Value Streams

Following the value streams means understanding how value flows through an organization and identifying where there may be improvements.  IT has to map the value streams.  A value stream map, as defined by the Lean Enterprise Institute, is a simple diagram of every step involved in the material and information flows needed to bring a product from order to delivery.

A value stream map is a holistic view of a process so it requires everyone’s input – from IT and other departments. What is should do is identify show where there are steps in the process that don’t add value to the end goal. The objective of a value stream map is a smoother, more efficient process that the entire organization agrees on.

Mapping value streams, not just within IT, but also including other departments will help IT (and the rest of the organization) gain a clear picture of where value is created and how it reaches the end customer — and perhaps just as importantly, where it’s not reaching the customer.

3. Identify services 

With value stream maps in place and a clear understanding of the business outcomes you’re working to achieve, you can then identify IT services and how those services influence and drive those business outcomes.

A service is a means of delivering value for a customer by facilitating outcomes or results that the business wants to achieve. For example, providing someone a tablet without software or network connectivity doesn’t contribute to an outcome. It’s just giving a piece of technology. But, if the tablet is part of the value chain and can help someone perform their job remotely so value continues flowing the organization, you now have completed service.

IT services should align with organizational value stream maps so that the IT contribution to co-creating value is clear. Look at the map and identify where technology enables the value stream. You need to define services that support and enable the technology or process that drives business value.

4. Experiment from ‘knowing’, not ‘guessing’

Once you start doing these first three things, you’ll begin to gather meaningful, business-relevant data. But be prepared! The data might be good. You might see where all that value is being created and clearly how value reaches the end customer. You might see that technology is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do. 

Or the data might be bad. You could see that value is leaking within the organization or that IT services aren’t effectively driving desired outcomes. More likely, you’ll see a combination of the two.

It’s important to be open to whatever data you find. The data will point you in the right direction. If the data is telling you that IT services aren’t driving the desired outcomes, it’s not a bad thing. It just presents a bigger opportunity.

This is the place of knowledge from which you can start experimenting with services, technology, and workflows. In these uncertain times as businesses continue to pivot, experimentation is going to become more mainstream, but experimentation will work best if you start from a place of knowledge. 

Be willing to make changes to the defined services, the workflows in a value stream, or even the technology you use to enable these services and workflows. Continue to measure the data as you go so that you can see what actually creates a more efficient, cost-effective value stream.

You and the rest of the organization need that place of knowledge from which to start innovating. With this data, plus the understanding of how IT works with the organization, everyone can make better decisions around the use of technology, where to make investments, and how to grow the business. 

When you are ready to tap into your data, I recommend downloading the CIO’s Guide to Navigating Shifting Priorities. It includes 3 of my most recent webinars (both the video and audio versions) designed to help CIOs lean into innovation, leverage what is working, and pivot along with the rest of the business. Download the guide here. 

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Why IT Organizations Stay Broken

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They say that “change is hard”. Organizational change is probably the most difficult kind of change. And for some reason, IT struggles with its own organizational change. Sure, IT knows that organizational change may be needed for business colleagues so that they can fully take advantage of a new IT product or service. But when it comes to organizational change within IT- IT often strikes out. Rather than be a model of good organizational change for the rest of the business, IT will often position itself as a support team, or as a service provider, continually at odds with the rest of the organization.

Time is running out on this old, broken model of IT organizations though. The IT organizations who fail to transform themselves beyond a support organization or a service provider will fail to exist. This sounds harsh, but it is the reality. IT organizations must understand why they are broken and they must commit to making the change if they want to continue to exist in this new normal.

Why do IT organizations stay broken?

The short answer is they’re afraid.

Now, I know that answer probably just lost me a few readers right off the bat. But if you’re still with me, a tip of the hat to you. Why is IT afraid to change? I have broken it down into two groups of IT organizations who don’t change. They’re both afraid for different reasons but fear is the leading factor for both.

The first is the IT organization that is afraid of what they don’t know.

Popping open the hood of IT to see what’s actually happening can be enlightening, but also terrifying. Because you might be able to see how hard the motor is working to keep the car running. Or you’ll find that you’re missing parts, parts have been long broken and you’re lucky that the car runs at all.

If the latter happens, the amount of work has just quadrupled to fix what’s missing or broken. Worse than that, the C-suite now has a picture perfect view of how much IT is underperforming.

This kind of discovery is scary to this type of IT organization. At least in their current reality, they understand it and they know how to explain it, defend it, and even work with it. It feels safer to distract themselves with putting out daily fires and accepting that they’re never going to hit their highest performance goals. But hey, at least they’re not making it harder on themselves by spotlighting their gaps and putting more work on their plates.

The second group of IT organizations who won’t change is the group that’s afraid to start. This group often knows they need to make a change, but the fear of starting down the wrong path or starting with the wrong initiative has them paralyzed. .

This group has probably popped open that hood of IT and they see all the broken parts – but every broken part seems to be the most important one to fix. They don’t know how anything under the hood works together so they don’t know where and how to get started.

And the longer they wait to make a change, the harder it is to justify doing that work required for that change. They continue accepting the status quo because they don’t know what else to do.

The fear of finding out what’s wrong, or working on the wrong thing, is very real for many organizations and the truth is, I understand it. Sometimes sitting in the dark is easier because you won’t have to see the monster.

But we can’t live in fear, especially right now in this current climate.

The business world is changing. Actually, the entire world is changing. When everything is uncertain, the most innovative leaders are the ones who know they can capitalize on this opportunity.

But it requires a level of courage, willingness to take on the responsibility, and committing to doing the work and to dig into the data they already have.

The Data is The Road Out

Both of the groups of organizations I described above lack one thing: data.

They don’t have the data to understand where and how they can make improvements. Or they think they don’t have the data.

Whether they’re too afraid to face it or feel too overwhelmed to dig into it, every IT organization has the data they need to make lasting change in their organization. It exists all around them — within their team, their end-users, their partners, their vendors, their processes and services. They just have to tap into it.

This mess of data may seem overwhelming at first but there is a way to take the next step. The hot topic right now is “experimentation.” Difficult times in business require innovation, and innovations require experimentation. But I’m adding an addendum. Instead of just simply experimenting, you should “Experiment from a position of knowledge.” Use your data. What is your data telling you? Where is it leading you?

Instead of allowing this uncertainty to freeze you in fear, try leveraging this uncertainty to propel you into something bigger, better, and different. Everything is already different in 2020 – so why can’t IT be different in a better way?

I predict we will start to hear IT success stories: the ones that innovated instead of standing still (or even worse, receded), the ones that pivoted rather than just turned in circles, the ones that leaned into the uncertainty and transformed into something better. I’m hopeful that the right leaders are in place in many places and they are already beginning to use data to drive change, learning from mistakes, and leveraging the capabilities they already have in place.

Don’t stay “broken”

My challenge to you reading this is: how will you transform your organization? How are you going to push through whatever fears that are holding you back? There might not be an opportunity quite like this one again. Leaders are made for these moments. Are you going to accept being broken? Or are you going to step up and pop open that car hood?

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IT Reset: How to Re-Prioritize IT Initiatives During COVID-19

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CIOs have had their work cut out for them over the last few months. The sudden shift to remote work has put pressure on IT to create solutions for remote workers using technology that perhaps was older or less capable, support overworked and stressed out IT technicians, and, in general, keep the business moving through the use of technology.

The priority at this time must be ensuring that technology supports essential business processes. But that doesn’t mean IT leaders should freeze any other initiatives until after COVID-19 has passed.

In fact, the worst thing any leader can do right now is “freeze” and wait until life “returns to normal.” There will be no return to the normal as businesses knew it before the pandemic. Even after the immediate threat has passed and businesses can resume working in offices, the way we work will be forever changed because of this situation.

There will be an expectation for the business to provide flexible work environments, more self-service options, tighter security, and better contingency plans for addressing future disruptions like this one.

All of these shifts provide IT with a rare opportunity to hit pause, take a step back, and reassess priorities. Adobe’s CIO Cynthia Stoddard advises, “CIOs now have to rethink priorities, or at least reorder them, and we must reinvent ourselves now as virtual leaders.”

Here are a few ways you can reset your priorities and identify what initiatives you should take on right now.

Cybersecurity

One of the first priorities should be your level of protection against cyber threats. Security is imperative for continuing essential business operations but this unique situation has increased the risk of cyber threats. “Zoom bombing” became a trend over the last few weeks as uninvited guests crashed virtual meetings and get-togethers, often disrupting the session with violent rhetoric. While Zoom quickly adapted to protect its users, this may be just the beginning of more frequent cyber-attacks and threats. As more of the world moves online, hackers will most likely increase the intensity and sophistication of their attacks. CIOs should review their cybersecurity protocols and ensure the proper procedures are being followed.

Productive Remote Work Environments

In addition to cybersecurity, CIOs need to make sure that every person in the organization is equipped to do their job remotely. This might mean you need to more heavily invest or leverage self-service technology or AI. Large investments or initiatives around new technology may have been on the back burner but now is an ideal time to reassess whether you need to make those investments now.

It’s also not just about providing technology. You may need to equip your team to handle and manage it. Are your knowledge bases relevant and up to date? Knowledge bases may not be seen as high priority, but techs will no longer be able to just walk down to an office to troubleshoot a problem. More of the organization could be turning to knowledge bases to navigate technology while they work from home.

Service Delivery

Another area to review is your service delivery processes. There are many facets of connectivity that are out of your team’s hands right now, including different hardware and software being used by team members with different levels of connectivity. Like I mentioned earlier, a service technician can’t simply walk down to an office to troubleshoot an issue. If there were any gaps in your service delivery processes before COVID-19, they are likely more apparent and problematic now. Take this time now to address those important issues.

Refocusing priorities will allow you to emerge from this situation more efficient and capable than you were. This will enable you to refocus on those more urgent tasks.

I mentioned in a previous blog post that CIOs and IT leaders need to focus on enabling outcomes instead of simply delivering outputs. Even though the way we work is rapidly shifting, this is a perfect time to reassess how IT can drive outcomes. We’ll never go back to work as before. So, instead of looking at this situation as a blow to current initiatives, look at it as the perfect time to re-prioritize and prepare for the new future.

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Outcomes vs Outputs: The Real Proof of IT’s Value

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The typical workday looks much different today than it did just a few months ago. Instead of driving to work and walking into the building, employees are going online and signing in to their messaging or collaboration tools.

Instead of physically taking a document to a client for a signature, they’re being sent digitally for electronic signatures.

Instead of popping into an office, managers are checking in with employees via texts, instant messages, and video calls.

As many businesses continue to work remotely amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become increasingly clear that technology is keeping the business together. Because of this, IT has to move into a more strategic role. For years, experts have been advising IT leaders to take their seat at the strategy table and be involved in the larger business decisions. Many IT leaders have jumped at this opportunity while others have struggled to figure out how to demonstrate IT’s ability to be more than a support function.

This shift of IT from a support function into a strategic partner can start with a simple shift. The shift from focusing on outputs to outcomes can make a world of difference for IT organizations.

Outcomes vs. Outputs

Let’s begin by addressing the difference between outputs and outcomes.

Outputs are the actions or activities that an IT organization completes. They are quantitative and easily measured.

Outputs could include:

  • Moving files and documents into the cloud
  • Closing tickets in record times
  • Installing new technology

Many IT organizations measure outputs as a way to illustrate their productivity and value. The thinking is that the more outputs they complete, the more the rest of the business will see IT as being valuable.

While outputs are important, outputs only tell part of the story. The real measure of value is the outcomes that are enabled by those outputs. Outcomes are the results that the business wants or needs to achieve.

Outcomes are business objectives such as:

  • Increased market share
  • Higher customer satisfaction scores
  • Increased profits

For example, the outcome of moving computing capability to the cloud is a more mobile and flexible work environment. The output enables the outcome. For every output IT is completing, the CIO must know and communicate what the business is now able to do as a result, or outcome, of that output.

That means before listing an output on a project list, IT managers must ask: “What outcome is this going to enable?

By doing this, you can cut down on the amount of busywork or projects that are not contributing to the bottom line. It will also show what outputs are ineffective. In some cases, IT delivers an output that doesn’t enable or deliver any real business outcomes. If this is the case, you’ll need to review the output and determine if it is truly needed.

This shift may also show that some of your metrics and KPIs are ineffective ways of measuring IT’s performance. For example, if your team has a high first-contact resolution rate but employees are still reporting poor service, then the first-contact resolution rate isn’t a good indicator of your performance.

How to Make This Shift

What do IT leaders need to do this to make this shift in their organizations?

Build Business Relationships
IT leaders need to understand the outcomes the business wants to achieve. They should seek out key stakeholders and have regular conversations about their technology needs and their goals and objectives. This will allow IT leaders to begin to see the end-to-end value of their outputs and initiatives.

Define and Map Services
Once you know the desired outcomes, you can map IT services to them. Map how the outcomes of your services connect to business objectives.

Measure Outcomes
It’s not enough to simply list off the number of outputs your team completes each month. Engage your stakeholders to identify outcomes and how an output contributes to an outcome.

The Future of IT

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that IT has no choice but to evolve now. The way we work will be changed forever. Even when businesses return to the office, there will be different expectations around flexibility and how technology enables flexible mobile workforces. The business will want to be prepared for the future, should anything like this happen again and they’ll be looking at IT to help plan and prepare for those possibilities.

CIOs and IT leaders must approach their goals and initiatives differently if they want to rightfully play a leadership role in their organizations. Connecting IT outputs to business outcomes enables IT leaders to help shape the future of their organizations.

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