As more and more of our technology management moves into the cloud, and more and more of our budget goes to other functions, it raises the question as to what the IT function is for, or at least will become?
Given the uncertainty around the future of the IT function, I would encourage you to tack towards the strategic end of the business-relevance spectrum. But as many CIOs, who having test-driven their best management consultant demeanour in the boardroom, have discovered, all roads lead back to new technology. So are we doomed to enter a vortex of operational obsolescence?
Not necessarily. There is at least one way we can turn our technology branding into strategic currency. Think 'Three Ts'. Toys, Threats and Table-stakes. Let's look at these in turn.
Businesses tend to initially see new technology as a toy. That is to say, they cannot see a business case for embracing the latest technological innovations. I mean, what relevance would something like IoT have for a healthcare practice or a chain of tattoo parlours?
But eventually, one or two of the more adventurous players find a way to improve their customer value proposition by embracing the technology. Perhaps through 3D printing, manufacturers in certain sectors can close down their factories, sell off their fleet of lorries and focus on renting software, and selling refills. These players become threats to the herd. They are the disrupters who are redefining the game, or worst still bringing the existing game to a close.
Some players will fail to transform, eventually grinding to a halt when they can no longer contrive profits by aggressively attacking their cost base. But for those that survive, the new technology represents table stakes for playing in this revised or new market.
So the question arises as to how au fait your boardroom is with what technologies lie on the horizon, and what technologies are in play? This is not an exercise in embracing, say, the arrival of colour printers to produce better looking reports. Think of the value you might offer the leadership of an auditing/accountancy business who are currently blissfully unaware of the potential for blockchain technology to obliterate their business model.
A potential flaw in my proposition is that it puts the CIO in competition with Gartner, who through its seasoned hype cycle research methodology has done all the value-adding work. But one would hope that you would know your business better than Gartner. Thus you could, if preferred, use their generic clairvoyancy as the basis for some specific recommendations to your leadership.
For every application of the new 'new technology' you propose, along with a timeline for its impact on the bottom line, you could also propose the associated changes needed within the organisation. This would require working closely with your departmental peers.
- Will more, or less people be required?
- What new skillsets need to be acquired?
- How will moving to a service-based model impact the balance sheet?
- What channels would give us the smoothest routes to market?
There are plenty of emerging technologies to choose from, including:
- AI and machine learning.
- AR and VR.
- Autonomous vehicles.
- Wearables and exoskeletons.
- 3D printing.
In fact, such questions will likely have IT, information and knowledge architecture implications. This is home territory for CIOs. Well at least the IT bit is. So, I encourage you, if necessary, to work on your information/insight and knowledge/collaboration capability.
Another thought, you could poll the users to establish how the emerging new technologies could benefit their parts of the business. Coupled, with the perspectives of you, your own team and the departmental heads, you could make a very strong case to the leadership team.
This approach I am proposing is better known as provocation selling. Most sales people are order takers. "This is what I have to sell. Which one do you want?" The IT department equivalent would be a CIO who sits there waiting for the phone to ring with a request for something to be built, fixed or enhanced.
Some sales people have matured into what is called solution selling. They start with the customer, firstly exploring what is giving them headaches. They then present their offerings as a pain killer. In IT terms this is the CIO who listens carefully to establish what the leadership wants, and then diligently provides it, regardless of whether it is what they need, or whether it is a poor use of resources, or even a time bomb. In IT circles, this approach is generally referred to as business-IT alignment.
Provocation selling is an approach whereby you make a strong case for addressing a problem the buyer doesn't even know that she has. You don't necessarily have the capability to deliver it, but your concern for the best interests of the customer steers you away from talking product set. The resourcing/commercial implications can be addressed once the customer expresses a commitment to proceed. This is what we are doing here with the Three Ts.
This will require investment on your part. Think of it as your cost of sales. In essence you are looking to fill your order book with exciting, though not stressfully so, strategically-relevant work.
Given the pace at which new technologies are emerging, this is a great opportunity for you to lead a department that is a strategic demand creator, rather than an operational reactive supplier. Once established, you will attract the best and the brightest, which will no doubt give your stock a further uplift.