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A Growing Sense of Urgency in IT

Recently, I attended Gartner Symposium / ITxpo, which is the largest gathering of CIOs and IT leaders annually in the US (this year’s attendance was over 12,000). I also attended the annual Fusion event, jointly hosted by the itSMF and HDI, which attracts around 1,500 IT service support and delivery professionals and managers.

At Symposium, there was a strong and palpable sense of urgency that IT must adapt quickly to help their businesses exploit the “digital industrial economy.” This was a key focus not only in the keynote sessions, but also reflected in the individual track sessions – especially those with CIO interviews and end customer panels. It was also a topic that attendees were eager to discuss during conversations in the expo hall.

This energy is coming from the increasing pressure CIOs, VPs of App Dev, VPs of Infrastructure & Operations, and Enterprise Architects are feeling from their business colleagues. But it’s also coming from within as CIOs and VPs in IT are increasingly frustrated by their own organizations inability to adapt.  Everywhere you heard statements such as “How do we act more like a start up in IT?”  Each of these IT leaders asking this question understand they have to transform how IT works today or not only themselves, but their businesses, could quickly become irrelevant in a rapidly changing economy.

For example, I talked to one CIO of a multi-billion dollar manufacturer who said, “My Application Development team uses one tool to manage requirements, my Project Managers use another tool for project scheduling, and my IT Operations personnel used a myriad of other tools to coordinate changes and day-to-day operations. No one is sharing information effectively with one another, and I can’t even draw a clear line of sight between our business priorities and the work that is going on in IT.”

Another Enterprise Architecture leader from a major financial services company said, “Every team has their own source of knowledge they use to do their job, and the same or similar knowledge is replicated all over the place. All of this means coordinating projects and collaborating across teams is confusing, time-consuming, and causes delays in responding to shifting business requirements.” I even spoke with a VP of Application Development and VP of Infrastructure & Operations from the same company who said they were best friends since childhood, spent time together socially, and even they couldn’t get their respective teams to collaborate effectively.

I walked away from Symposium feeling like there is a strong sense among the US IT leadership community that ineffective knowledge sharing and collaboration is truly holding them back, and that not only IT Operations, but Application Development, and Enterprise Architecture teams must confront this issue head on in order to help their businesses succeed in the rapidly changing digital economy.

Fast forward to this week and the Fusion conference, which also featured a strong focus in the keynotes on the need to move faster, collaborate, and put more emphasis on the people in IT. Yes, there was also a strong emphasis on processes (this is after all the biggest ITIL-related conference of the year), but there was also a strong sense of the need to adapt to a model with “just enough” process and a greater emphasis on agility and flexibility.

What’s more, in conversations I had in the expo hall, there was a strong recognition of the need to improve collaboration and knowledge sharing in IT service support and operations. There was also a strong recognition that SharePoint isn’t the answer, but many of the attendees I spoke with also expressed a level of frustration that they had tried to convince their senior management of the need, but were shot down. In fact, the person responsible for transitioning new services into production at one of the largest insurers in the US told me that she was just going to wait until something big failed to convince management to spend resources to fix the issue. Incredible to hear, but, unfortunately, true.

Others I spoke with were more positive that they could change things, particularly those who had recently taken over service support and delivery after running another key function in IT such as data center operations or infrastructure engineering. In short, those who have been in service support and delivery for a while were resigned to an inability to affect change, while those newly in those roles were still optimistic.

Reflecting on these two experiences, it is clear to me that there is a common understanding of the need from CIOs down to practitioners that they must improve how IT collaborates, how IT shares knowledge, and, ultimately, how IT gets work done across teams. IT leaders, as evidenced by the conversations I had at Symposium, are actively looking for ideas and recommendations, but the practitioners exemplified by those at Fusion are frustrated that their past efforts have fallen on deaf ears and have in many ways accepted that they will have to “do the best with what I’ve got.”

In many cases, I believe those senior IT leaders may have been right in shooting down recommendations from practitioners that were often either what seemed like process for process sake or the opposite of everyone for themselves in a “wild west” scenario.  But we can’t let these communication problems get in the way of addressing this sense of urgency that everyone alike is feeling. IT leaders must actively work with practitioners to develop recommendations that will foster improved collaboration and knowledge-sharing across functions, and they must also work together to build the business case and justify the effort by tying it back to how this will help the business adapt and compete in a rapidly changing economy.

The alternative is nothing less than the continued marginalization of centralized IT and the flowing of IT dollars to the business, or worse the business literally going out of business because IT can’t move faster. Let me know what you think.

Matt Selheimer
VP, Marketing

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