Organizations have been dealing with digital technologies for decades, but the last five years have seen some remarkable leaps in capabilities that led directly to cost reductions and vast increases in processing power, speed and storage. With constantly connected mobile devices that place the power of prior era supercomputers into our hands, our lives have been transformed by digital technology.
As great as the transformation has been in the enterprise technology landscape, many large organizations are still burdened by siloed departments, functions and applications. These limitations hamper effective customer engagement to a striking degree. Customers no longer accept being transferred from department to department. They demand instantaneous access to their information–account and order histories, profiles and preferences, networks, etc.
Siloed structures are a result of business evolution. Specialization and differentiation allow people and departments to do things really well and gain efficiencies over time. Developing efficiencies and getting really good at doing things comes from repetition, ingrained habit and consistent processes. But then, processes change due to fluctuations in the marketplace. Business conditions continually change–typically much faster than either people or technical infrastructures are able to keep up. There lies the rub.
I recently spent some time speaking with the CIO of a large manufacturer about transformation of processes and supporting technology and asked how his organization dealt with this. He responded by saying that organizations need to manage change proactively and on a continuous basis. The problem is that’s not the interesting part of the job. It’s more interesting to buy and deploy new technology. The longer, more difficult part of the change process is getting people to do things differently and to help people recognize progress even if it is slow and difficult.
“Change management is not the sexy part of the job,” he said, “but you still need to do it. You need to show people that you are progressing and succeeding. When people feel that they are making progress and their efforts are turning into something, the momentum keeps them focused. Show how the pieces are working together, and communicate like crazy. As a leader, you have to be an evangelist. Make sure the senior team and stakeholders communicate so that people feel your passion and drive and they feed off of it. In two or three years, they will understand how important this change really is.”
I had another conversation with a CIO of an insurance company who said, “Most organizations don’t have the patience to do things correctly from the perspective of foundational capabilities–like enterprise architectures that save time and money down the road. They do things to satisfy the immediate needs of their projects and budget without considering the larger picture across multiple business units and processes.” Or as a colleague says, “There’s no budget for the common good.”
This excuse begs the question of how to focus organizational time, attention and resources at the correct level. At this level, meaningful progress is made so that people don’t lose interest, but it is not focused on the short-term objectives to such a degree that the longer-term vision for the enterprise is lost.
This balance is not easy to achieve. However, some organizations are succeeding, and they are creating significant competitive advantage. There are approaches that allow for long-term roadmaps that align with future capabilities while achieving short-term wins along the way. Better yet, there are places where these practices can be learned. The upcoming Connect-IT Conference is one venue in which a number of successful organizations will be sharing their approaches for developing world-class digital experiences. They will explain how they are developing sustainable, cost-effective processes for ensuring long-term evolution of digital capabilities.
If you can attend only one event this year, make time for Connect-IT. It will be the most practical and valuable event around for senior leaders on both the IT and business sides of the organization.