Big Thoughts, General Technology, Technology

IT transformations must begin with hearts and minds

The role of the information technology (IT) department is changing. In simpler times it was the bastion of back-office services like data storage, network operations, and ERP systems. Today, both its purpose and the demands placed upon it are quickly evolving. Driven largely by economics, the IT function is outsourcing many of its commodity-type activities; looking for ways to rein in out-of-control support costs; and being asked to be more central in helping to enable new business opportunities. Simply put: the C-suite is demanding more value on its IT spend.

For many IT departments, moving from a largely back-office role to being an enabler of business growth requires nothing less than an IT transformation. This can often translate to painful, but essential change in the way IT is sourced, organized, and operated. But more importantly, it is about shifting the mix of IT dollars spent away from maintenance and into new investment. A successful IT transformation should result in 60 percent or more of all IT spend being available for new projects that can be directly tied to business growth.

Getting there is not easy.

Many IT leaders tasked with this directive leap deep into the strategy by quickly shifting priorities, shutting down projects, and using sheer brute-force to change the dynamics. This approach can work, but it will come with a price.

Like all change, and given its particularly complex nature, an IT transformation must be managed in a deliberate and multidimensional manner. Sure, the heavy lifting is essential, but it should not be the first thing that gets done. This kind of radical change must start with the CIO and his or her managers engaging in collaborative discussions concurrently across the business and with the IT team. As the impact of the change will be experienced by almost everyone, setting expectations and getting as many people as possible bought into the strategy at the outset is essential. An IT transformation will be tough, but it will go smoother and will be better understood and accepted when leadership has won hearts and minds.

As CIO of O’Reilly Media, I’m leading our own IT transformation. Driven by our desire to get more done, more quickly, and to continue to be at the leading edge of innovation in the business areas in which we compete, requires nothing less than a significant shift in how we execute our IT function. We’ll keep doing the things we do well, but we will take a careful look at everything else.

Over the next few months, I’ll be blogging candidly about our experiences: both what is working and where we are being challenged. I want you, the O’Reilly Media community to be part of the conversation in this change. We’ve started to work on hearts and minds and that also means we’ve got to do a lot of listening. So go head, tell us what you think.

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