At least two things in life are inevitable, change and being told at conferences how inevitable change is. Of course, change is natural. Increasingly accessible technology drives the pace of change by putting more power in the hands of more users.
A smartphone isn't powerful simply because of the technology it contains, but rather because of how easily it makes that power accessible to its owner. Much like smartphones, businesses have ever more access to increasingly powerful and usable technologies, often without the need for IT to be involved. Nearly four years ago, when faced with building our own IT department at reed.co.uk, this realisation helped lead us to the strategic decision to remove ‘IT' completely from our business.
As a CIO, many find it odd when I describe this decision, but the truth is that this change has ultimately helped to transform the company for the greater good. Let me explain, by first taking a step back to set the scene.
The evolution of IT
"Information Technology" as a term was first coined back in 1958 by Harold Leavitt and Thomas Whisler in a landmark article for the Harvard Business Review. In that article, Leavitt and Whisler categorised an industry, and by giving it a name also gave it a shape. Yet the shape of IT in the age of Leavitt and Whisler would be unrecognisable to an IT department of today. Since then, it is safe to say that the rulebook has been dispensed of. Information, innovation, creativity, process, automation and analysis have collided with technology to demand that business, management and strategy evolve.
Technology today is no longer solely the domain of IT professionals. From the first moment that a CEO demanded corporate mail on a personal iPhone the fall of traditional IT was written in stone. As Steve Jobs and Jony Ive started re-educating executives about what was possible with technology, the number and quality of services delivered from the internet – cloud, or Software as a Service – has meant that IT departments no longer need to host their own infrastructure. Startups naturally took advantage of this first, needing neither permissions nor forgiveness to use the cloud, and as their early adoption matured, SMEs and then corporates slowly had to sit up and take notice.
The remit of the traditional IT department was already strained to capacity. From deeply technical and operational skills, to understanding risk and probability, through to the social and psychological elements of Information Security, IT was responsible for a broad church. As mobile and cloud matured, the lines between business and technology roles blurred even further. This is not only ultimately untenable but also potentially stifling for agility and innovation in the immediate present. This is why in 2012 we took a stand and transformed our IT department to match the new landscape we were a part of.
The time for change is now
Change has always been part of the culture at Reed.co.uk. Having been here since the beginning, I'm confident in saying that we have never stood still, growing from four people to over three hundred and becoming the largest job site in the UK. Everybody at Reed.co.uk has always been empowered to become a change agent, with new ideas from staff regularly being implemented in order to help drive positive transformation of the company. It was never in question that amidst all of the promise of the cloud we would invariably experiment and move to the new technology early. Having had a history of bullish early adoption, the executive board were used to my sometimes outlandish proposals. In one board meeting in the spring of 2011 I perhaps surprised even myself, suggesting that we take responsibility for our own IT systems, moving away from the corporate systems provided to the larger Reed group, and do so without creating an IT department.
Thankfully though, the board understood the business rationale – we would make huge gains in flexibility and efficiency. Thanks to our culture of change and a solid business case, the board were as keen to try something new as I was. Whilst the details developed over the year of implementation, it was agreed that we would no longer rely on a centralised IT department, but would completely provision our technology and services from the cloud. The intention was that all of our critical systems, from finance through to HR and CRM, would be available in a web browser and on a mobile device. With clear executive agreement on this strategy we embarked on this programme of change, known as 'Minerva' - named after the Greek goddess of wisdom and commerce.
Step by step we removed our ties to the corporate IT function, moving reed.co.uk into the cloud and responsibility for systems to the teams using them. This transformation enabled us to immediately deliver new services to our employees, all the while ensuring that all of our applications could be accessed on mobile devices.
Change causes stress, a fact as true in business as it is in biology. Organisations tend not towards entropy but towards homeostasis, the comfortable state of maintaining order and stability. But while change needs to be carefully managed, it can also be practiced. Agile organisations develop a resistance to the stress of change by practicing it regularly, with transformation and evolution become the established norm.
Perhaps one of the areas where we naturally fear change the most is around security - one of the most complex and sensitive areas of a business. In today's age of cloud computing, a new architecture for security is required, from our employees' devices right through to the data centre; protecting our data, applications and people.
Security was therefore our first consideration for the new platform - built in from the beginning rather than added as an afterthought. After considering the market, and consulting with VMware, we knew we could achieve the robust security we wanted. VMware's enterprise mobility management platform, AirWatch, provided vital piece of mind in securing our mobile devices as we transitioned from our traditional IT infrastructure to a 'cloud only' model. As a medium-sized business without the budget for a dedicated security team, the importance of having experts to provide support when rolling out such major change is critical.
Change is a mindset, not a moment
It would be easy to consider this a story of technology or business transformation. For me however this is a story about people and culture. Truly embracing change requires a culture where failure is both accepted and encouraged, seen as part of a commitment to brave, creative experimentation. To support this change and our experiments, we need technology solutions which give us the freedom to try new ways of working in a secure manner.
Whatever the catalyst is for change, the truth is that it has never been easier nor more effective to try something different. The journey of change we embarked on at Reed.co.uk not only helped to transform our IT infrastructure, but also the entire business. It has freed the shackles on all of our staff so that we no longer have to worry about a tangled legacy of wires and hardware and instead, remain purely focussed on driving the business strategy that is required for success.
Mark Ridley is CIO of Reed.co.uk