"We are more successful onboarding new technology versus maturing it" - And five things CIO must do to drive digital platforms

I was speaking with a few CIOs at the SINC USA West conference in Scottsdale late last year on the state of managing digital technology in their organizations. One CIO told me, "We are more successful onboarding new technology versus maturing it." Here's the logic behind his thinking and why this is a real issue for organizations investing in digital platforms

  • When a new technology is purchased, there is incentive by business stakeholders and technologists to prove the value of the investment and achieve a production use case. We leverage POCs and agile practices to mature technologies to this first deliverable.

  • Once the technology is in production, we spend significant effort to ensure the operational stability of the platform. Even if the technology is deployed to the cloud or is a SaaS, it requires a knowledge transfer, monitoring, and other IT services to support ongoing operations.

  • By the time we discuss new use cases for the technology, there may be some resistance by business stakeholders to apply the technology a second time if there were any issues or speed bumps deploying it the first time.

  • Even when technology deploys smoothly, business stakeholders are not incentivized to reapply it in new contexts. In fact, their requirements for new use cases may not perfectly align with the capabilities of the selected technology and they may drive the CIO to look for new technologies that better meet their requirements. 

  • We are our own worst enemy. Even when their is good technology in place we have technologists on our team seeking the latest and greatest. This is a good thing as we want technologists researching new capabilities. However, when they fail to understand the economics of repurposing existing tech and lobby for something new that is only slightly better than what is already in place, then it can make it difficult for the CIO to sell to stakeholders a streamlined , repurposable set of technology platforms.
Organizations end up with multiple CMSs (Content Management Systems), search engines, big data platforms, CRMs, and other platforms - partially through M&A, but also because business and technology leaders fail to reapply technology they have and often seek out the latest and greatest.

From Technologies to Platforms

Here's my advice for CIO that want to see technologies become multi-use platforms -

  1. Find multiple use cases up front before selecting a technology. Focus implementation efforts on one of them to get the win, but make sure you have a couple other initiatives with business rationale defined as potential second and third use cases.

  2. Partner with business stakeholders to define strategic requirements without diving into implementation details. Then, educate stakeholders on the capabilities of existing platforms with the goal of better aligning the implementation with a platform's capabilities.

  3. Educate a larger technology team on the platform's capabilities so that they are more likely to drive its reuse.

  4. Partner with the CFO and the CHR on incentives that reward leveraging platforms.

  5. CIO must market their platforms internally, but be honest about their capabilities. In addition, CIO should communicate where they are doing R&D on new platforms to better align technologists and stakeholders.

This is the fourth article of a multi-part series on What I Learned about Digital Transformation from Speaking to Hundreds of Leaders. You can read the previous articles on Financial Practices are Outdated for the Transformation Era - (And here's what you can do about it),  Developing a Strategy for Putting People First in Transformation Programs and We are doing agile but are not Agile. The next article on If Data is the new Oil, We’re Still Digging Wells  will be published soon. Sign up for my newsletter if you would like to be notified when new articles in this series are published.
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Financial Practices are Outdated for the Transformation Era - (And here's what you can do about it)

In talking with technology leaders about their transformational programs, the discussion often evolves to a gripe session on the mismatch between ingrained financial practices and the types of organizational practices required in transformation programs.

Agile, cloud objectives misaligned with financial practices

Outdated accounting practices
The gripes look like -

  • We’re practicing agile on sprint and release cycles that are days to months in duration, but the finance team needs yearly and sometime multi-year financial forecasts on “project” costs. 

  • We want to be agile with our customer facing technologies, but financial practices more often drive one-time capital investments and hard to justify ongoing investments to support enhancements. Our "projects" should be run more like ongoing agile programs.

  • We want the versatility of the cloud but have not adjusted to higher operating and lower capital investment options to support this transition.

  • We want to experiment, pilot, and even “fail fast” but expect business cases that forecast ROI before making pilot investments.

I confess, but I don’t have a one size fits all solution to drive change in mindset and financial practices. As a CIO and now as President of StarCIO I have to work with the financial chiefs and auditors to determine where they would permit stretching or changing our financial practices.

But I can offer some recommendations

1. Take charge of your spend

Driving Digital by Isaac Sacolick
If you’re not doing this already, take charge of your financial spending by tracking it rigorously. More often than not, your ERP doesn't have the level of detail to run IT like a business. If you are a large enterprise, there are many tools that you can select from to manage the total cost of ownership of IT, but these may be out of reach for medium/small enterprises or small IT shops who must be creative on adopting tools, methodology, or level of detail to track. In my book, Driving Digital, I provide some advice on developing a financial tracking tool on lowcode platforms.

Tracking financials rigorously gives you much deeper knowledge on where you can cut costs to drive new investments. It's also your vehicle to have a more detailed financial discussion with your finance teams.

2. Address agile mindset factors first

This is important:
Manage to budget and quality first, timelines second, and scope a distant third. 

This requires a deep change in cultural and developing an agile and digital mindset around scope and what is an MVP - which is more critical to address in transformation programs versus deeply ingrained financial practices. By managing to budget first and tracking finances rigorously (my first recommendation) you'll be better positioned to provide accurate financial forecasts. Then, you have to manage to this budget by debating scope or adjusting timelines.

Secondly, partner with the CEO on developing an innovation portfolio that operates with a separate set of KPIs aggregated at a portfolio level. It is a mistake to try calculating ROI to early in a program, and CEO often support the idea of an innovation budget that's backed with sound management practices.

3. Find the timing and levers to pull to adjust CapEX and OpEX spending

As you move more infrastructure to the cloud, it should free up capital that you can use to drive the upfront investments needed in transformation programs. So make use of your CapEX to fund the initial release of new products and platforms. Work with your CFO and auditors on the governance of applying CapEX to innovation and MVP product or application releases.

To offset the increased costs to support cloud, SaaS, and ongoing application development you’re likely going to need to find offsetting cost savings. This can be done by proposing projects to increase automation, consolidate SaaS providers and sunset legacy platforms. You're going to have to be creative with how to shift this spend, and the best CIO find ways to either capture larger budgets from business teams or to shift costs into line of business P/Ls while still retaining appropriate controls.

4. Find IT capabilities outside of IT

Shifting OpEX spend from infrastructure to ongoing application development isn't going to be sufficient.
The elephant in the room is that as organizations invest more in digital transformation programs, they are going to have to support a larger and more complex portfolio of applications. 
This requires funding for resources especially if you're going to continue to invest in enhancements and avoid seeing today's applications become tomorrow's legacy.

CIO have another lever to pull and that's using resources outside of IT to do some of the technical work. CIO must consider growing their organizational technical capabilities with citizen development and citizen data science programs, reducing the level of “IT” investment and skill to drive technological change.

5. Network and learn from peers

I am shocked by how many CIO and IT leaders that I know personally that don't get out of the office to network with peers. I just published 500+ global events for CIO and IT Leaders, so there are plenty to choose from!

Great CIO and IT leaders network with other CFO and CIO in and out of their industry to learn modernized financial practices that they have instituted. At conferences, seek out IT leaders from your industry or size of enterprise and ask them how they are shifting spend from CapEX to OpEX, what tricks they are learning to find investment dollars for transformation programs, where they are having success with citizen development programs, or how they've gotten buy in for innovation budgets.

This is the third article of a multi-part series on What I Learned about Digital Transformation from Speaking to Hundreds of Leaders. You can read the previous articles on Developing a Strategy for Putting People First in Transformation Programs and We are doing agile but are not Agile. The next article on We are More Successful Onboarding New Tech Versus Maturing It is now published. Signup for my newsletter if you would like to be notified when new articles in this series are published.

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Announcing: 500+ Technology Events for CIO and IT Leaders

Are you ready to develop your 2018 professional development plan?

In 2017, I launched my first dashboard of events for CIOs and IT leaders to resounding success and decided to do a new version in 2018. The 2018 Events Dashboard for CIO and IT Leaders is now available with over 500 events targeting technologists at all levels.

2018 Events for CIO and IT Leaders

What's New in the 2018 CIO Events Dashboard?

I decided to enhance this years dashboard -

  • Launched with 500+ global events coming from thirty-one (31) countries including almost 300 from the United States and over sixty (60) from the United Kingdom

  • Coverage of seventeen (17) topics with a focus on emerging technologies such as AI, blockchain and IoT

  • Now display conferences targeted to specific industries including financial services, healthcare and retail

  • Coverage of events from over twenty (20) event organizers

If you are an event organizer, there are links on the dashboard to submit your events.

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We are doing agile, but are not Agile

Everyone, or at least almost everyone is doing some form of agile practices today. In fact, some leaders drive their digital transformation programs with leading agile to deliver customer facing applications. In a year of speaking at conferences, I did not meet anyone selling their waterfall, top-down project management practices as keys to their transformation programs.

But ask a few more questions and you’ll find that for many leaders, going from basic agile practices, to a scaled agile organization, and evolving to an agile culture remains a work in progress. By the facial expressions and tone of their response, my sense is that many leaders are frustrated by some of the barriers and speed bumps they face to get a normalized set of practices running across teams and to show how a cross-disciplinary agile culture drives innovation and results.

From Agile Practices to Agile Culture

If you’re one of these people, I have some news for you. It takes time leading, nurturing and mentoring teams and people to grow beyond the basic practices. Most teams can adopt the basic scrum practices first and demonstrate significant improvements in their ability to deliver applications faster, with higher quality, and closer to schedule. But going beyond this to a point where agile is an organizational strength requires leaders to go outside of their comfort zone.

What I mean by this is very specific. 

If agile is only being done by your tech teams with limited interaction with the business, then it’s very hard for this practice to translate to ongoing success in a transformation program.

Some struggle getting product owners to participate properly in their agile programs and must work through organizational barriers to get the time and commitment required to deliver on this role. But even those that do bridge this gap and have participating product owners, the leader will fall short of enabling an agile culture if people from business organizations are not directly participating as members of the agile team.

When Agile is only an IT Practice

We have all seen the end results when agile is an IT process with little involvement from business leaders. The agile team delivers a technical result but fails to deliver on the business objectives.

When there isn’t

  • Organizational support to participate in the program from its inception, 
  • Working hands to guide the program during its development stages 
  • A plan on how a technological change will be introduced and nurtured with end users 
then there is a strong likelihood that the initiative will fail, stumble along, or underdeliver.

Why does this happen?

It’s convenient for business leaders to wrap an agile development practice with a traditional project management process. 
The initiative starts with a waterfall business planning process to define the objectives and vision, an agile practice for the implementation, and then falls back to traditional project management practices when the program is ready to be instrumented with end users.

In the end, the team is doing agile, but the organization isn’t agile. Business planning doesn’t continue into the development process establishing a fixed scope of what is to be delivered and failing to leverage feedback to readjust priorities. End users are only engaged toward the end or even worse, after the delivery. This creates an uphill battle getting them enthusiastic to support changes when they’ve had limited time to input and provide feedback.

Solving the Agile Cultural Issues that Limit Transformation

Show this to your CEO, GM, or most senior business leaders participating in your transformation programs.

  • I want product owners spending at least 35% of their time with the team
  • I require that we begin implementing way before planning is complete
  • I only support initiatives where business people take active responsibilities on agile teams
  • Everything that we need to do to make the initiative successful should be in our agile backlog

If you want an agile, nimble organization then this is what it takes. If I’m implementing a data integration with the marketing team to see aggregate metrics from all lead generation activities, then marketing needs to participate on the team to provide feedback, review metrics, and steer priorities. If we’re integrating a new commerce channel into the ERP, then I want finance participating to understand the automation being developed, define business rules, and review reports that drive accurate results and scalable workflows. If I am looking to enhance the CRM with mobile optimized workflows, then I want salespeople testing the changes at the end of every sprint.

But most importantly, let’s reset expectations up front.

Agile empowers business leaders to leverage customer feedback and to adjust priorities with every release and sprint. It’s an amazing tool when used well because it means you don’t need everything planned up front before an initiative gets started, and it means that customers and end users can provide feedback as they see the product demoed and kick the tires after each sprint.

But this flexibility requires a change in mindset about vision and scope. Teams can’t deliver precisely on vision and a prescriptive scope when you’re given the freedom and empowerment to adjust priorities. You’re not just fitting a square peg in a round hole, you’re trying to fit multiple square pegs through simultaneously.

Until business awaken to this new way of thinking and working, your teams will be practicing agile without becoming an agile organization.

This is the second article of a multi-part series on What I Learned about Digital Transformation from Speaking to Hundreds of Leaders. You can read the previous article on Developing a Strategy for Putting People First in Transformation Programs and the next article on Financial Practices are outdated for the Transformation Era. Signup for my newsletter if you would like to be notified when new articles in this series are published.

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Developing a Strategy for Putting People First in Transformation Programs

If you are driving a transformation program, motivating and aligning people is a critical success factor

Most leaders now understand how important it is to put people before process and technology when it comes to instrumenting large scale organizational change. That being said, many in technology leadership roles are not versed in methodologies to instrument change and some are not devoting sufficient time and energy to it.

So, it was refreshing to see Chuck Blakeman, author of Why Employees Are Always a Bad Idea  speak at KintoneConnect spelling out the differences working with employees versus workers. His key message is that we need employees to think, question, and challenge the status quo and move our organizations forward compared to workers of the industrial age that were given jobs and processes to follow. This is a big difference in expectations since a lot of work today can be automated or offshored and an organization's employees should be playing active roles in evolving the businesses' products and services.

Then I saw Chris Laping speak at Evanta CIO/CISO Montreal about his book, People before Things on the importance in spelling out the “why” before the “what” when aligning teams on vision. We may all want to drive to Maine to vacation, but probably have different expectations on why we’re hitting the road that should factor into what path we take to get there.

What it Means to put People First

Putting people first is harder to do than it sounds. It means getting on planes and having long discussions around strategy. It requires gathering a group of diverse leaders to meet with different customers and have discussions on what they are seeing and hearing as business opportunities and threats. It forces leaders to work with a large, diverse group of employees at different levels in the organization to learn about what drives them and inspire them to take on more challenging roles that align with transformation.

As technologists, we’re often thinkers, analysts, problem solvers, and solution engineers before people leaders. We naturally prefer working with the best, brightest, and fastest before putting ourselves in the midst of working teams and mainstream users. We have a long history of providing substandard service when users request help through the service desk. We have difficulty marketing our strategies and solutions beyond the decision makers that control spending and investment. We find it easier to explain away our issues as “technical glitches” rather than speaking with honesty and simplicity on how we all struggle with providing great service around aging systems.

Aligning 2018 Objectives with People First Objectives

So in 2018, think about what you’re doing to put people first. Are you going to commit to getting on the road visiting customers and translating the experience to your colleagues and teams? Are you going to reach out to millennials in the organization and provide them responsibilities and digital foundations to participate in your transformation programs? Will you spend more time articulating the why versus the what in your programs and challenge your colleagues and staff to do the same?

In my book, Driving Digital, I provide some recipes on how to go about this tactically. When developing new products, I suggest performing market research based on a series of questions that can be used to listen and learn from customers. In agile programs, I recommend defining roles and responsibilities to help new participants better understand how to participate in the program. When trying to become a more data driven organization, I recommend rolling out citizen data science programs so that more people across the organization can get involved in a very hands-on way.

Here's my parting recommendations

This is the first article of a multi-part series on What I Learned about Digital Transformation from Speaking to Hundreds of Leaders. The next post on, We Are Doing Agile, but are not Agile will be published soon. Signup for the Driving Digital Newsletter to get more information on this series.
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What I Learned about Digital Transformation from Speaking to Hundreds of Leaders

You learn a few things when you spend a chunk of the year on the road attending and speaking at conferences targeting CIOs, CTOs, CDOs (Chief Digital and Data Officers), CISOs and some CMOs. I’ve attended and spoken at over twenty events this year to share insights and lessons from my book, Driving Digital: The Leader’s Guide to Business Transformation Through Technology and presented on several topics around digital transformation, enabling the data driven organization, driving business value with emerging technologies, enabling a culture of transformation and innovation, and creating business and IT collaboration with agile practices.

I recognize that most of you can’t afford to be on the road twice a month, so let me share some insights with you from the presentations I’ve attended, questions I’ve fielded, and discussions I’ve had this year with millennials just entering the job force to CXOs of Fortune 100 companies. I’ll be updating this posts with links to these articles when I publish them. If you’d like to be notified when one of these posts is online, please consider signing up for my newsletter.

Insights from Leaders on their Transformation Challenges

Over my next several posts, I’ll continue this story and cover the following themes

  1. Developing a Strategy for Putting People First in Transformation Programs

  2. We Are Doing Agile, but are not Agile

  3. Financial Practices are outdated for the Transformation Era

  4. We are More Successful Onboarding New Tech Versus Maturing It

  5. If Data is the new Oil, We’re Still Digging Wells

  6. What to do When My CIO Still Doesn’t “Get It”

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Three Factors to Better Understand Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is not just about applying cloud, mobile, and social technologies or experimenting with emerging technologies like AI, blockchain, or IoT. In my book, Driving Digital: The Leader's Guide to Business Transformation Through Technology I begin the discussion on digital transformation by sharing expert opinions on what is digital business.

Here's me talking about digital business and digital transformation at a talk that I gave recently at Kintone Connect.


If you want to read more -

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