This blog was originally posted to Smart Enterprise Exchange.
Here’s a question on the minds of every senior IT executive: "How differently are we leading our IT organization today, compared to the past?” If the answer is “not very,” we can pretty much guarantee that IT will not hit the target to help the business gain the increased agility and efficiency it needs to survive and to successfully outpace the competition.
Not only has the business climate changed drastically in recent years, but our companies are in a very different place than they were before we entered the global economic meltdown. The result is that IT needs to immediately adapt to different business drivers. Drivers that feed on global interaction, individual access to tremendous resources such as internet learning, components built in days from different sources to create new business applications, and change happening at faster speeds. Consumerism and the internet are about letting the power of the individual work in new ways. To achieve this, IT leadership will have to take a new approach to our own role — one that considers very carefully how we can influence our people to accommodate the “new normal” of the individual.
IT and the New Normal
The new normal is a world where work permeates into every part of employees’ lives, much as it was before the industrial revolution, when occupation and life were so interrelated that surnames grew out of the trades people practiced — from baker to Baker, or smithy (as in blacksmith) to Smith. There was no such thing as a 9-to-5 business day: Farm workers started when the sun came up and ended when the sun went down. Today, with ubiquitous technology, the constructs of the industrial era are being undone. The lines are blurring to drive new levels of productivity: Business consumers of technology regularly use smart phones to read and send business emails long past “traditional” business hours; a social network of trusted peers is more valuable than a single media source.
In fact, people expect technology to help them be productive anywhere, anytime, with no constraints. The consumer-driven IT trend also has created a workforce that expects IT to make it easy for them to accomplish tasks — if it’s harder than downloading something from iTunes, it’s not acceptable. It has created a new expectation — Internet intuition.
For many reasons, IT is scrambling to deliver services that satisfy these new expectations and requirements. IT is a new human practice about 50 years old and it is evolving faster than anything in human history. This creates two issues. First, we are still learning the best way to accomplish it and; second, architectures that become antiquated before a complete ROI has been realized. Think of the value and success of Oracle and SAP ERP systems. Powerful tools, but they are using human interfaces and architectures of the mid-90’s. They are no longer user-friendly and timely... (We’ll talk more about those issues in upcoming blogs.)
This time around, I want to focus on what we, as IT leaders, must address if we hope to successfully deal with the innovation required, complexity and meeting the challenge of the new normal. All change starts with looking inwardly first. We need to focus anew on our people: on driving better-aligned skill sets and creating a workforce that can quickly adapt to what the business demands right now.
Relearn to Learn
One reason IT staff is working very hard while customers are stepping on the gas , can be traced back to how IT pros have learned to do their jobs, both initially and as they mature into new roles. The traditional model — absorbing and remembering the teachings of the “sage on the stage” — is a learning approach that’s too “one size fits all” manufacturing oriented to effectively support the new reality and capability of the individual.
As we talked above, the world is giving the individual power to learn, to adapt and to innovate at faster speeds. This means IT staff and their business partners need to take advantage of this new learning together. There are roles moving between IT and the business. Think of the user who has become the ‘information user’ or ‘analyst’ crunching information in real-time and making decisions without IT programming support. In fact social networks will become business intelligence driven by the individual.
There are roles the IT service organization must step up to such as advanced business process engineering and services management. IT and business professionals must get out of their comfort zones and try more adaptive learning strategies, such as learning from social networks and search engine research . They must learn how to teach themselves in interactive environments and to rely on themselves to find answers when presented with new demands and challenges, and even more complexity. To be indispensable, they must rapidly learn to demonstrate competencies, not just to accumulate certifications.
This new model is embraced by the younger IT generation often referred to as millennials. They’ve grown very comfortable with creatively figuring out solutions to problems on their own or in collaboration with teammates. It would be wise for us as leaders to think hard about how we can harness and disseminate that energy and “can-do” attitude among all of our staff. This way of learning is more natural, productive and enables the power of the individual.
Change Yourself First
As our people learn how to work differently, we must also work on the structure of how they work. The current evolution of consumer driven IT will allow a more natural and empowering integration with the business and individuals. Coming up with a plan to meld the different strengths of all the technology staff into a more agile and effective learning environment is one important aspect of leadership for the new normal.
We must embrace consumer-driven IT as a powerful productivity tool in the ‘new normal.’ We must define our IT shops as service centric businesses with a defined set of services that can be quickly configured to respond to business needs and priorities. IT has to become part of the business conversation and enablement, not just a seat at the table. In order to deliver IT at the speed of business, IT leaders must blend their work, their time, the delivery of services and their conversations with the business. Thus IT must evolve to become business services centric and equip the business with a broad range of services and delivery solutions optimized for the fast-moving, complex world of the “new normal.”
We have to be open to expanding our IT teams to new professionals who can reinforce new perspectives among their peers and who may bring the organization more creative, innovative out-of-the-box ways of thinking. We must inspire creative success dependent upon disciplined command of IT skills and business understanding, matched with an eagerness to improvise and innovate for the best interest of the business and not just for IT popularity. We must learn to excel both as individuals and members of a team, with collaboration an essential aspect of our “new normal.”
That, then, is the challenge I propose: Enable new ways of individual learning that will spark new levels of creativity and productivity in a period of when the information era undoes the confinements of the industrial revolution. Redefine IT as a service business not as technology for automation.
This blog was originally posted to Smart Enterprise Exchange.