September 8, 2020
Almost all critical business initiatives require significant capital investment – realized in many different areas of the enterprise. Success or failure can be decided on any myriad of decisions that are made during the project. It is of paramount importance that decision-makers of any one organization – big or small – have a firm understanding of the role IT plays in their enterprise. What I am describing is a fundamental shift in our approach to IT. Gone are the days of thinking that IT is “just another division,” tantamount to finance or marketing. IT is everywhere. In many organizations, all business functions are linked to IT. And with that being the case, IT must move beyond its traditional role of network architecture, server spin-up, intrusion detection, patch management, etc., and work toward the overall business goals.
Embracing New Approaches to Work
A recent paper entitled IT-Driven Business Services1, stressed the following:
It is crucial for an enterprise to continuously define, develop, and improve services that customers want to use (and, of course, pay for). Services are more than ever IT-driven, and dependent. Complexity lurks beneath every surface. A required service must be fully understood to know if it is truly of value and worthy of investment. And, without an overall business service architecture, it is difficult to picture every nuance.
With this in mind, we must employ an IT-Driven Business Service that makes the complex comprehensible. Any and all tools must be brought to bear that will allow for accurate decisions in minimal time. Streamlining the design, development, and testing process will enable R&D to pursue new applications that will fuel innovation.
This iterative approach is depicted in the following graphic:
Such iterative approaches have become critical in modern IT operations. One of the main movements in such collaborative concepts is known as DevOps, which “advocates a collaborative working relationship between Development and IT Operations, resulting in the fast flow of planned work (i.e., high deploy rates), while simultaneously increasing the reliability, stability, resilience, and security of the production environment.”2
DevOps principles are conveyed in what is called “The Three Ways.”3 The First Way prioritizes the success of the overall business, not just one department.1 The Second Way incorporates feedback loops, where “the goal of almost any process improvement initiative is to shorten and amplify feedback loops so necessary corrections can be continually made.”5 The Third Way calls for continual experimentation, resulting in both failures and successes, and continual repetition that will lead to efficient and effective work processes6.
Power/Interest Grid Matrix
A very necessary step in this task is to not only acknowledge the key stakeholders but also to identify their level of potential influence on the project’s success. These are the employees and officers, due to their positions and/or levels of expertise, that will need to be understood. Their opinions are the ones that will likely be the difference between an initiative’s success or failure. It is vital never to lose sight of this aspect.
To assist in this all-important task, decision-makers can utilize a Power Interest Grid Matrix (see below). It is a simple but effective tool for gauging the importance of the various stakeholders.
As we can see, the X-axis measures the level of interest in the initiative, while the Y-axis measures their power to affect it. Those that have a minimal interest and minimal power only require to be monitored. Those who have a high level of interest but little power to affect the initiative should be kept informed of its progress. Conversely, those with considerable power to affect the initiative, but little interest in doing so need to be kept satisfied.
It is the fourth quadrant of this matrix that is our primary concern. These are the stakeholders who have both the power and the interest to affect the project. And, as we can see, these individuals should be managed closely in our work. It is imperative to incorporate their input into all decision-making processes. This will be accomplished through an agile framework by which IT can partner with the researchers and include feedback from the market to rapidly scale individual projects in terms of design, development, and testing.
Of course, having an accurate assessment of your IT environment, network maps included is essential.
An outline by Steven Gordon and Monideepa Tarafdar proposes a way to conduct an IT audit that will boost innovation in enterprises where many projects are being undertaken at the same time. The proposed design seeks to “minimize duplication of effort, control the allocation of resources, and ensure that it funds and appropriate mix of low-risk/incremental and high-risk/potential-breakthrough ideas.”8
The authors note that there are inherent conflicts between information systems and innovation writ large that are fundamentally constraining. The trouble stems from the fact that “information systems are traditionally designed to impose structure on processes, achieve predefined goals, produce metrics of progress and minimize the need for human interaction, while innovation activities are highly unstructured and emergent.”9
To assist in this regard, three components are necessary for the use of IT to bolster innovation activities: IT-enabled organizational capabilities, IT-based tools, and a system of control.10 The following is a broad view of these concepts:
- Capabilities – formed by combining IT assets (e.g., data, infrastructure expertise, etc.) with non-IT assets (e.g., creativity of innovators, technological sophistication of top management, and laboratory resources, etc.) to enable the across-the-board processes essential to developing and applying innovations.
- Tools – to effectively sustain the central activities required for innovation and to support the analytical work that scientists, engineers and designers need to transform ideas into products, processes and services.
- Controls – that allow innovation workers to access and use the IT resources efficiently.
To help with the communicating the high-level view of these concepts, which is especially true with regard to the enterprise’s capabilities, the researchers identified six organizational practices typical of companies that effectively use information systems to boost their innovation performance: 1) portfolio and project management; 2) collaboration; 3) knowledge and information management; 4) business-IT linkage; 5) ambidexterity; and 6) competitive intelligence.11
The second component, tools, are those “who routinely make effective use of IT employ a robust set of tools that are easy to learn and that address users’ specific technical needs.12 By contrast, tools that have long learning curves relative to their frequency of length of tools used are less likely to “stick.’”13
The last component, control, is of equal criticality to those prior, being that “one of the most important roadblocks to innovation occurs when R&D staff lack adequate control – of the computing resources and tools they require – owing, for example, too rigid standardization policies.14 An absence of innovation-facilitating IT governance practices is often at the root of the problem.15”
On the topic of Research & Development, Gordon and Tarafdar posit that significant benefits (innovation) can be realized when R&D controls their tools; and this is of particular importance when such tools are “specialized and unique.”16
Corporate leadership in our current environment now “expect CIOs to leverage IT to help drive business innovation.”17 It is essential that CIOs become a partner and play an integral role in innovation since CIOs can be instrumental in shaping the conditions that facilitate innovation by leveraging IT.”18 Strategic planning can often be challenging due to the goals being “large and complex objectives that almost always require many resources scattered across many departments.”19 Other challenges include lack of alignment, inability to track progress, and stakeholders and employees not being connected to the process.20 Utilizing some of the tools and concepts discussed in this article can provide a solid foundation when maximizing IT to help facilitate the overall success of the organization.
1 Johnson, B. and de Rouw, L. (2019) IT-driven business services. Collaborative business design: The fundamentals (10-21). IT Governance Publishing. https://www.itgovernance.co.uk/shop/product/collaborative-business-design
2 Kim, G. (n.d.) Top 11 things you need to know about DevOps. Retrieved from https://www.thinkhdi.com/~/media/HDICorp/Files/White-Papers/whtppr-1112-devops-kim.pdf
7 Thompson, R. (n.d.) Stakeholder analysis. Retrieved from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_07.htm
8 Gordon, S. R., & Tarafdar, M. (2010). The IT audit that boosts innovation. MIT Sloan Management Review, 51(4), 39-47. http://sloanreview.mit.edu/wp-content/uploads/saleable-pdfs/51410.pdf
17 Kim, G. (n.d.) Top 11 things you need to know about DevOps. Retrieved from https://www.thinkhdi.com/~/media/HDICorp/Files/White-Papers/whtppr-1112-devops-kim.pdf
19 Bouvier, P. (2019). The 5 most common strategy execution challenges. Retrieved from https://www.cumanagement.com/articles/2019/04/5-most-common-strategy-execution-challenges. (9/7/20)