Acting AS THE Business

During the last couple of weeks I had the opportunity to spend time with my peers in Canadian higher ed institutions through CUCCIO (Canadian University Council of CIOs) meetings and through a Microsoft Higher Education Executive Briefing in Redmond, Washington.   This is always a great opportunity to share ideas, develop thoughts, establish common ground, and build partnerships.  In one of the background pieces for CUCCIO strategic planning discussions, the following comment sparked my interest:

“..exploring, understanding, addressing the transformation of Higher Education and the CIO role and how we can collaborate on what that looks like and how to effectively manage the change in our diverse and structured environments”.

This is something that we really need to ponder and figure out.  The role of the CIO is evolving in most sectors, as are the roles of the people employed in HE technology.  I don’t think it is anything more than the maturation of our organizations as a whole, and the maturation of the role that IT plays within that organization.   I have talked about this evolution before in various forums.  It is related to the notion that IT is embedded in most everything we do and because of that we need to embed IT decisions into the day-to-day business of the organization rather than having it as something over on the side that is only called upon on occasion, or worse yet, whenever there is a problem.   At the same time, I have also said that IT is an enabler and a partner.   I am beginning to rethink this a bit.  It is not that I think it is wrong, but maybe there is a better way to characterize this.  After all, it is not just about IT changing, it is also about the organization changing, so maybe we need to look at it from the other side as well.

A few months back my Associate Directors went to a development program through the Intervista Institute in Ottawa where they looked at IT Portfollio Management in a strategic sense.   One of the things that they discussed when they got back was the area around IT and business alignment.  It is absolutely critical to get to this alignment, but probably one of the hardest things to achieve.  Whether it is lack of engagement by the business, lack of understanding of the business by the IT unit, lack of resources, or lack of leadership/vision, it is hard to drive this sort of transformation.   At the end of the day it is no longer about producing good code, it is about improving business performance and having a shared vision around what that means.

In the development program, the Associate Directors looked at IT Credibility and Capability and laid it out in two very nice quadrant style diagrams.   In the bottom right of the Capability diagram was the traditional notion of Supporting the Business.  This is about cost and efficiency, which results in a delivery of Low Capability.  This is such a trap that we fall into.  IT becomes a cost centre and at the end of the day nobody is happy because we are not enhancing business performance, even if we say we are working efficiently.

The middle of the graph is where IT is Acting like a Business.   In this area we are starting to drive from efficiency to effectiveness and from cost to investment.  In this area we haven’t yet developed a balance and subsequently we aren’t fully delivering on business performance and we haven’t maximized the IT capability.   I see this as a transitional piece – a place we have to go, but also somewhere in which the path forward is not always clear, and there is always the threat of falling into the efficiency/cost trap.

True alignment between IT and the Business is where we focus on effectiveness (as opposed to efficiency) and treat IT as an investment, rather than simply a cost.   The title of this quadrant is Acting AS THE Business.  IT may be an enabler and partner in this area, but it is also an integral part of the business.  Decisions about technology are no longer made in isolation and we measure business outcomes, not just cost efficiency.

I really like the three states that they describe:  Supporting the Business, Acting like a Business and Acting AS THE Business.  It certainly resonates with me, but I also think this is something that is stated in common language that can be understood by the technology group and the business.  I believe it lays out a clear path forward for us.  In a previous post I have talked about running our senior administration through the Info-Tech CIO Business Vision Survey which is about understanding the business and measuring the business satisfaction.  This is about driving alignment and trying to move us towards acting as the businessAt the moment I am going out to visit each of the people who have completed the survey and, upon reflection, I really think those visits are all about driving alignment and talking about getting IT to act as the business.

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