More than a century ago, Charles Holland Duell, the Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, expressed a wish that he could live his life over again just to see what might be invented. Duell would undoubtedly have been delighted at IT developments. He’s often misquoted as saying, “Everything that can be invented, has been,” and some IT directors might be inclined to agree, at least within their departments. They’ve gone from revolutionary thinking to incremental change, and while that might be good for stability, it may not be the best strategy for growth.
Juggling stability and growth is a core skill for modern CIOs. Here’s how to move past surface-skimming ideas and look at big-picture transformations while offering lasting business benefits.
Develop a Grand Unified Theory of IT
Physicists have been searching for the Grand Unified Theory that defines how the universe works, and so far, it’s been a challenge for generations. You have a far easier task: coming up with a unified business strategy that takes digital trends into account so your department can grow at the rapid pace of technological innovation. “Disruption” is a woefully overused buzzword in IT, but in the case of digital media, it’s accurate. Think about how mobile technology has transformed everything from shadow IT to security concerns, and you’ll see how much of an impact new technology has had. Integrating digital strategy with your organization’s overall IT approach is tougher than seeing them as two separate entities, but unifying them makes your team vastly more agile.
Consumer access and increasing ease with technology have allowed professionals in every department to scale the ivory tower that IT professionals used to have to themselves. That’s a good thing; it means you now have allies when defining IT’s place within the larger organization. Now, everything from the finance department to the marketing team relies on you to bring technologies together. For example, your sales team’s Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software used to be a siloed system that didn’t directly connect with the marketing department’s technology tool-set. Now, marketing automation makes all prospect and customer information accessible. Fusing online ordering and supply-chain automation, linking it to marketing, and bringing the finance team into the picture creates the potential for huge growth.
From your C-level executives’ offices to your reception desk, technology is everywhere. Another advantage to the fact that most of your organization is now at ease with new tech is that you’ll have an easier time communicating with them. Strengthen those channels of communication even more with mentorships and interdepartmental exchanges that teach your personnel more about disparate parts of the organization as you teach their staff members how IT can affect the way they work. New viewpoints can help you come up with new projects and improve functionality of existing systems for every department in your organization, but first you have to get close enough to see their point of view.
Pay Attention to the Beaten Path . . .
If you look at an overhead view of a newly designed park, shopping district, or college campus, chances are you’ll notice something fascinating about the way many developers now lay out bike paths and walkways. Instead of drawing lines that look aesthetically pleasing on a drawing of the space, designers hold off on placing pathways until they see how people actually use the area. As footpaths appear, they become narrow paths or wide thoroughfares based on how people move. In IT, you can use the same philosophy to prioritize the most-used systems and pathways. Forms that contain precisely what’s needed, analytics that derive meaningful figures, and dashboards that let users see all the key data at a glance come from careful study of the paths people in your organization walk most often when collecting, storing, and retrieving information.
. . . But Blaze a Trail
Sometimes, you need to take point position and guide your organization forward. When cloud computing was new, many companies were slow to adopt it at first because of limited understanding of how it worked or traditional ideas about how to manage information. Businesses that had IT directors willing to create a road map to cloud use had a slight advantage at first, but as time went on, that initial head start became an insurmountable lead for many, leaving their competition in the dust.