Is IT losing grip over its own domain?

CEOs are taking control of digital change projects, what does this mean for the future of technology departments?

We did ask for it…

For years, IT tried to get the attention of the boardroom.  “Putting IT on the boardroom agenda” was a commonly spoken term at industry events and in blogs.  But broadly, senior managers refused to be drawn.  IT was too techie, too commoditised, and simply too BORING to receive consideration at the top table.

At best IT was an important, self-managing corner of the business.  At worse, it was a pesky cost-centre to forget about until something went wrong.  So IT kept plugging away, producing efficiency-based metrics of no interest to anyone outside of the IT department and tried explaining to anyone who would listen that IT is really important.  Unsurprisingly, these efforts failed and nothing changed.

In recent years, trends such as consumerisation and the emergence of brands which have harnessed technology to rewrite models of product and service delivery, have made non-IT people sit up and pay attention.  Now in 2016, the penny has resolutely dropped.  A survey of CEOs leading billion dollar companies found they finally value and understand IT.

Not only do these leaders see the point of IT, they think that digital change will be so profound that it will make their “industries unrecognisable” within the next five years.

This isn’t just empty rhetoric.  These CEOs value digital transformation so highly that many of them have decided to take primary responsibility for developing and steering the strategy ongoing.  So in a very short space of time, we have moved from CEOs paying little attention to IT, to suddenly wanting to take control.

Is IT losing control of IT?
Given this development, the big question becomes: has IT lost control by finally getting what it wished for?   It’s easy to react fearfully to this kind of shift, but if we think about it rationally, this is just what IT needs to progress.  The very reason IT tried to get the attention of the boardroom is that it struggled to deliver something meaningful to the business, beyond a commodity function.  To get out of this funk, IT was supposed to find ways to appeal to the rest of the business, and the only way to do this would be delivering solutions that fixed problems and helped the business work more effectively.

But how could it possibly understand enough about the departments and day-to-day challenges of the departments it wanted to help when:

a) It’s was busy dealing with its own day-to-day challenges.
b) The business had no interest in having these conversations.

The only way that digital transformation can truly work is if BOTH parties contribute and converge.  Yes, IT must demonstrate a willingness to help the business harness technology.  But without involvement from departments and business leaders, the conversation doesn’t happen and nothing changes.  Therefore, it follows that the reliance upon strategic business relationship management is critical to this endeavour.  A BRM is not a glorified account manager and order taker.  A BRM is a strategic orchestrater between customer experience, business partner and business technology, surfacing, stimulating and shaping demand for high value digital initiatives and ensuring that the value is continuously harnessed and harvested from the technology services and assets.  The BRM is the CEO and CIO’s most crucial role in the whole organisation.

CEOs steering digital transformation will still lean heavily on the CIO and BRM’s,  and indeed every element of the IT department to succeed, regardless of their plans, so there is no fear of diminished value. On the contrary, by championing digital transformation, the CEO will be able to make everyone in the business aware of its importance, elevating the status of IT and making these critical conversations happen.

Perhaps IT has been given what it asked for – and it’s exactly what was needed.

Digital transformation makes us all customers, partners…and competitors.

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Simon Kent
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