Everywhere you turn, the CIO and the IT department seem to be under siege. From business units running off on their own to secure cloud services while cutting IT out of the picture to stories about CFOs that think they can just take over the CIO role, today's CIOs and IT departments, more than ever, need to prove their value and worth in every way.
IT departments that are considered nothing more than a necessary evil are most at risk. These are the departments that tend to be reactive, maintenance-mode only units charged with keeping the IT lights on. In these kinds of departments, it's no wonder that the senior IT staffer reports to a CFO rather than to a CEO.
I've written previously about what I see as the typical IT department of 2020 and I've also written about how important governance is when attempting to meet ever changing priorities. But, let's take a moment to talk about survival--survival of the CIO position and of the IT department itself.
What will be will be?
First, let me be clear about one thing; if the IT department is destined to simply go away, then that is as it should be. Clinging to old ways in an effort to prevent this from happening will simply delay the inevitable. Instead, the CIO and the IT department, if they haven't already, need to change in some fundamental ways.
I believe that the CIO and the IT department are uniquely positioned within the organization in such as way that they can break the bonds of "maintenance mode" operations and transform themselves into value-add internal service providers. There are already many examples of IT departments doing this today, but the stragglers still needs to catch up.
When you think about how data flows through the company and how business processes leverage this data for automation and efficiency purposes, IT can be considered as living as the nexus of just about everything that happens in the company. This isn't to say that IT owns everything that happens, but that the systems that fall under IT's mandate are responsible for handling the vast quantities of data that people touch every day.
I've previously written that I believe that the IT department of 2020 will be a fast-paced services broker, helping business units acquire, implement and integrate a myriad of services and applications from a vast array of resources. IT will "knit the quilt" of these services in a way that makes the appear as a single cohesive whole.
But, in looking at IT's place at the nexus of information and process, this ideas that IT will be a services broker becomes clearer, but it also becomes very clear that the IT department is extremely well suited to be the information czars of the organization as well.
With the rise of big data, companies are looking for new and easier ways to manage the deluge in an effort to:
- Do more with less
- Automate manual mundane processes
- Make better decisions
- Engage with customers, suppliers and employees in new ways
This is all well within the realm of possibility when process can leverage good, clean data.
Let's use an example with which I have some experience. A major business goal in higher education these days revolves around improving student retention. Many first-time freshmen at colleges and universities find themselves regretting their college choice or find themselves not succeeding and considering either dropping out or transferring to a different school. As the old saying goes, it's easier to keep a current customer than it is to get a new one. This is also true for college admissions.
When a student retains, everyone wins. The student gets his or her degree and the college receives ongoing tuition revenue while that student is in attendance. However, many schools have absolutely abysmal records when it comes to retention, retaining, in some cases, barely half of the freshmen that started.
A growing trend in higher education is to identify the key factors that create the whole of the successful student as well as the unsuccessful student and then determine if there is any correlation between the selected factors and the propensity of students to succeed or fail. As is the case in any kind of statistics, on must be careful to avoid create a cause/effect relationship when none exists, so the data analysis process exists to help administrators determine what might be going on and to further study what appear to be anomalies.
Positive outcomes abound
From there, a responsible, data-driven institution will ascertain the merit--or lack thereof--of the potential anomaly and, based on this data, make process or policy adjustments to improve the outcome, while bearing in mind the bigger institutional picture. For example, I've heard some conversation that revolves around simply not admitting students that fit a "not successful here" profile, but that kind of thinking is both short-sighted and financially imprudent. Instead, it's better for institutions to use this information to reflect thoughtfully and implement policies and processes that support major swaths of a population that has proven unsuccessful when there is adequate data to support the modifications.
This kind of effort is one that can get at IT's true potential. With access to all of the organization's data and a keen understanding of the process flow and overall business model, the right effort can yield direct financial benefit to the institution. Although IT will hardly perform all of this in a vacuum, by partnering with other business units and assisting in the effort, IT proves its value as a trusted, business minded partner.
Action Item: For CIOs and IT departments, it's time to BE the data. Understand every nuance of every data element and figure out how it might fit with the bigger picture. Understand how individual data elements are leveraged in business processes and start partnering with business units to leverage this data to improve their processes and ultimate outcomes. At the same time, ensure that there is a consistent framework around which these processes can be improved, to include a governance structure--to avoid an onslaught that will doom all efforts.