CIOs Need to Focus on the "New Normal"

By Ron Wince

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Tight budgets, the specter of uncertainty, higher customer expectations and increased pressure to do more with less are just a few of the challenges facing IT managers today. On top of this, they must continue to develop an organization that can be effective in a business environment that is increasingly ambiguous and reactionary.

In order to be successful in the “new normal,” IT leaders must stop trying to do 1,000 things at once and focus their efforts on a few critical areas which include the following:

Talent Retention and Development - When the economy began to tank nearly two years ago, companies responded by performing radical surgery in every functional area of their business, resulting in the decimation of many IT organizations. As the economy shows signs of improvement, discussions about technology investments and strategies, once put in mothballs, are starting to reemerge. However, with many companies still unwilling or unable to take on the risk of increasing technology budgets, IT managers must leverage their existing budgets to do more while also dealing with high levels of staff turnover which typically accompany economic upturns.

Talent retention and development is no longer a secondary consideration but must be a foundational element of the IT manager’s play book in the near to mid-term. Fortunately, there is a common sense approach to addressing this challenge:

Business Alignment - Prior to the economic downturn, business/IT alignment was a challenge. Now and in the near future this gap will become even more critical as responsive and agile businesses gain the tactical and strategic advantage in an uncertain world. To thrive in this new environment, the IT organization must be at the table, completely in sync with the needs of the business and just as accountable for the success and failures of corporate strategies and business plans. Everything from operating platforms to data and knowledge management systems to analytics/business intelligence will be required to execute dynamic business plans.

Gone are the days where a three to five year plan could be created and then cascaded to the IT organization along with annual project plans. Going forward companies must create high performing business processes in everything from value-added operations to back office financial management systems.

Companies that successfully create agile business management and IT organizations will be the winners.

Even more, IT leaders must recognize they can no longer operate as a separate functional support group. Conversely, business executives must recognize that IT is no longer a staff function but the key enabler to rapid decision making, market responsiveness, innovation, competitive and business intelligence and value delivery to customers. As an example, the traditional organizational structure of operations being “owned” by IT is no longer adequate. Operational excellence is a joint collaboration between technology and transactions. Technology is a critical, embedded element of operations in the enterprise of the future and companies that recognize this will create operating models which far out perform their competition.

Lean and Mean Technology - In addition to IT managers being concerned with retaining talent and becoming more integrated into the management of the enterprise, they must continue to maintain their laser-like focus on running lean. Budgets are not likely to increase substantially in the near term and yet IT organizations will be required to take on an ever-increasing number and complexity of needs. This conundrum will seem daunting but it need not be. There are many IT organizations that are just beginning to adopt tools and methods that have historically been leveraged only in operations and back office:

There is no question that IT organizations will continue to be faced with unprecedented change and demands on resources. But IT managers will no longer have any wiggle room when it comes to responding quickly, delivering maximum value with minimum cost and resources, while also becoming more prevalent in the overall strategy of the business. In order to accomplish all of this, the thinking that once made IT organizations and their managers successful will no longer be enough.

Ron Wince is co-founder, president and CEO of Guidon Performance Solutions, a management consulting firm specializing in business performance improvement. Prior to founding Guidon, Ron led an internal consulting group for Bank One and later at JP Morgan Chase. His pioneering work in the migration of Lean Six Sigma, robust performance management and execution speed in service industry companies is the precursor to Guidon. Ron is a highly sought after speaker and advisor and has been published or quoted in Fortune, Forbes.com, Patient Safety and Quality, and Healthcare Executive, among others.