The tortoise or the hare? Why not both?

There is a pendulum that swings through business. We know we need to move quickly and innovate, but we also know that moving too fast sacrifices quality and consistency. There are pressures to centralize functions or decentralize and a host of pros and cons for each.

We end up with a model and workforce that has whiplash from the constant friction of changing directions or competing objectives. This is commonplace in business and the dominant challenge of my career, whether managing people, consulting in technology, selling software or marketing.

While these cycles are happening within organizations, from a bird’s eye view, most companies fit into one of two models. They’re either cutting edge or old school. Fast or slow. They’re either the tortoise or the hare. And if you tell the tortoise to be a hare, he’ll laugh at you and go about his business.

To make things even more complicated, IT is often poorly understood by non-IT management and perceived as unable to serve the business the way it should, regardless of the speed of the organization. With technology moving so quickly and business being disrupted quite easily in tough economic and globalizing times, these trends and lack of understanding/blame create crisis for many companies.

Blind Spot

At the TUCON 2012 Conference in September, I picked up a copy of a book being distributed by my company: Blind Spot – A Leader’s Guide to IT-enabled Business Transformation by Charlie Feld, a highly successful CIO with Frito Lay before becoming a CIO’s consultant. Feld describes a blind spot as:

…a subject that is obscure or unintelligible to otherwise sharp and intelligent people. Information technology, unfortunately, is that kind of subject to many business leaders. I say “unfortunately” because IT can either enable or disable an enterprise to sustain vibrancy and success in the 21st Century.

In Feld’s view (and mine), most senior leaders in today’s enterprises are very comfortable with the way a business functions but very few have the technology understanding to know where, when and how to benefit from technology-enabled change. They have a significant blind spot in an area that is critical to successfully operating in today’s landscape.

Feld addresses both the blind spot and tortoise vs. hare challenge with a framework that serves to bring business into technology transformation while enabling a hybrid model that take the best of speed and quality. Tortoise and hare.

Blind Spot is a quick read and covers Feld’s IT experience as both CIO and consultant across many industries, including Frito Lay, Home Depot, Burlington Northern Railroad, and Southwest Airlines.

The Framework

Feld’s framework has a horizontal Journey axis that includes Strategy, The Turn, Up & Running, Hitting Stride and Self Sufficiency. These all represent phases of bringing the organization along a 2-year the path by going through 90-day cycles of effort in each segment of the Journey. The vertical axis involves the Four Planks of Change, which are the Why, What, How and Who, the key questions that have to be answered for any change to be sustainable and, ultimately, successful.

The simplicity of his model is obvious. The value of asking the four questions he spells out chapter by chapter as the key to making the methodology work. Why do anything at all? What will we do? How will we do it? Who will lead and manage the change? He goes into the value of each in detail.

Examples of change

Feld talks about Southwest Airlines and Burlingt0n Northern Railroad and shows how their business model and their IT model were misaligned. Where a train was located physically versus logically (in their systems) were fundamentally different, which seems hard to believe. He shows how Southwest took completely different approaches between the business and IT that made the cultures of the two halves of one company incompatible. These aren’t outliers…many companies are operating this way right now.

Before closing, Feld spends considerable time on the Who plank, giving out advice from his experience in organization, leadership, culture and performance. This end up being much more than a methodology book, it delivers Feld’s philosophy of change. Considering what he’s accomplished in his career and how simply he lays it out, it becomes easy by the end to buy into his view. As he says:

…we made great progress and further proved that having this framework allowed us to measure our progress, correct course where necessary, and most important, communicate complex issues in simple ways–both internally within the IT department and externally with the business leadership, customers, board of directors and Wall Street.”

Why it matters

Blind Spot may be two years off the presses, but its concepts are remarkably timeless. It matters more right now that ever before, as companies struggle to change to tay relevant and competitive in a world that has rewritten the rules about data, analytics, customer experience, consumerization of IT, and collaboration. As Feld says, “…the potential of IT still far exceeds the ability of most organizations, industries, and governments to harness it.”

Updating Blind Spot

Reached for comment, Feld talks a story of urgency:

As aggressive as I was about the IT functions of the CIO being the chief integration officer, I undershot the mark. The downturn caused an acceleration of technology in B2C businesses. Anyone dealing with a customer, whether travel, transportation, retail, whatever, those business models are coming apart quicker than I thought they would. The pace makes it more urgent and makes the CIO’s need to step up to being the Chief Integration Officer right now.

There’s a need to integrate suppliers, legacy systems, software packages that are in place, all with cloud services that have shown up like SalesForce, SuccessFactors and others that are all important…but unless there’s someone leading the way in integrating these components, it won’t work. It is a different mentality for the CIO to move from control to integration. They need to be an integration leader.

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Categories: Innovation, Tech Strategy, Workplace Reality

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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