The CIO change request dilemma

As you might imagine, my job brings me into contact with many CIOs and IT Directors and nearly every one has different views and different problems to solve.

I guess one part of my job is to try to read their minds and get a feel for the aggregate of opinion in this field.  I have believed for some time that senior IT guys have a focus (rightly) on the longer term.  In today’s business environment the long term is usually seen as between 1 and 3 years.  As a result, IT resources are deployed onto major projects leaving scarce little left to do the everyday changes the business keep requesting.

I have been putting the argument that CIOs need some ideas aimed at getting the business to solve those problems for themselves.  So it was nice to speak to a CIO from a worldwide distributor last week and hear him echo those views.  “I like giving the business tools that they can use” he told me.  Nearly all his own staff are on major projects.  Meanwhile he has a list of 150 business change requests that he cannot attend to (this is a low number compared to most large organisations).  His team sits down with the business every couple of months and assesses a “hit list” of top priority changes and he struggles to deliver even those.  This is a very common scenario and is a management dilemma.

If the IT function takes the eye of the long term ball, then those projects will suffer.  We can all name a project that was always a rolling 6 months away from implementation before someone finally had the cojones to put it out of its misery.  Conversely, however, if IT does not meet the business needs on a day to day basis they will lose the business’ confidence.

I think the dilemma is attacked by making room for local solutions under the control of business people and resourced by them, but with the knowledge, consent and governance of the IT dept.  Blue Prism Automate is one such a tool that specifically addresses clerical process pain points.  But there are many other tools that apply the same “local” principle, to different problems, and savvy CIOs are seeking them out.

The result of not allowing business staff room to find their own solutions, is that they will do so anyway.  Users have been allowed to run riot with Excel and (in some cases), Access (ugh…), these tools being used like a screwdriver to bang in a nail.  Well, would you wait two years for a hammer if you could make do with a screwdriver that afternoon?

Enterprise systems like CRM, ERP and workflow for example, have for years been instilled with some flexibility of configuration under business control, and this approach has been helpful.  However, many IT depts are scared of releasing this functionality to the business for fear they will cause damage.  Furthermore, the very existence of these systems leads to a poorly integrated environment which itself can cause problems.

There is also a fear that adding more components to the software infrastructure will make for an even more tipply topply stack.  However, the truth is that locally used tools often replace other inappropriate solutions, making the stack more solid and often reducing the number of systems in use.

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