Architects Are Key To CIO Success In Digital Strategy
I just finished reading this article from VentureBeat: https://venturebeat.com/2018/04/21/the-traditional-ceo-cio-relationship-is-changing/
It seems the CIO is getting popular again in executive circles. I have predicted this for many years as digital society forces technologists out into the lime-light and as business, government, and society run more and more on technology over antiquated business patterns. I predict further changes coming as well where the CIO will be a realistic path to CEO and where technologists must function in society in the same way medical doctors do (influence on policy, shared liability and responsibility, realistic data gathering on successes and failures to improve the practice, etc).
But to do this IT must wake up and realize they have the ball and must run with it. As long as technologists a) run away from technology as a primary business force, b) think everyone else in the company is THE business, c) focus on operations over innovations, and d) ignore their leadership responsibility in business initiatives, then nothing will change until we are forced.
While the article suggests that CIOs are moving in this direction, it is important to not that IT is NOT ready to take on this kind of leadership role. Think about it this way, just because a bureaucracy gets a new leader doesn’t change the bureaucracy instead it often changes the leader. Iasa has been fighting this fight for a long long time. We teach digital transformation, innovation and value management as a critical function of IT specifically targeted at the architect practice and capability of the organization. And yet our most common feedback is often, “Our company won’t let us work this way. We can’t even MEET business people, much less drive innovation and digital business models.” This is not a failure of the architecture practice nor unique to them as a group. It has been up until now (hopefully) the system surrounding technology people has demanded they focus on risk reduction, cost reduction, and feature delivery over true digital transformation as a fundamental driver of business models. Now that this is truly upon us, the IT group is going to need to do some fast pivoting. And there are a lot of big changes needed to deliver us into the status and recognition we deserve as business leaders.
People Change is Most Important: The greatest problem to solve is the people problem. IT is built, made up of and staffed by people who are risk averse, cost aware, and think like engineers. Our teams are balanced towards, delivery time, budget and requirements with quality attribute outcomes and governance being staged based. Our training and culture suggest that capability in the latest technology and a rigorous technical background are the primary cultural success criteria. To achieve business growth through technology drivers the structure of IT has to be threaded with technologists (regular business people won’t do as you will see) who are personally and organizationally driven by customer outcomes, innovation and structural creativity with a team dynamic that supports this role from smallest team to company wide. The skills and people have to change not just process and leadership (change the bureaucracy).
Many IT people never deal with ‘the business’ and must work through layer after layer of IT account managers, BRMs or other such roles to start. And even if they did, their skills and roles would preclude a leadership role in business value delivery measured in ways that business people understand. Let’s not kid ourselves, just because we put a developer in a room with a business person does NOT mean they speak the same language. I have taught developers to be architects for many years and it takes many years to unlearn the engineering mindset and learn the digital business mindset. That is not to badmouth developers, we need them to stay focused on engineering. This is where architects can truly shine. Threading skilled architects through the IT processes from ideation to measurement accomplishes this change without losing the value of the current IT capability.
For IT to take its place as a full business unit it must stop thinking like a pure operations unit. That will take many years of dedicated work as well as new ways of managing, thinking and practicing. We must embrace the concept that for the CIO to be positioned as a business leader his/her staff must be positioned and capable in similar ways.
Think Horizontally Not Vertically: This concept is in the article but it has been weighing heavy on the minds of Iasa leaders for quite some time. Organizations still tend to be run vertically with silos of skill. Humans tend to organize in hierarchies and groups of like minded and skilled individuals. Sales group, finance department, etc. But value is driven horizontally and innovation and new business models start close to the customer/citizen. For CIOs to achieve success as business drivers they must have their staff organized to take advantage of, participate in and lead horizontally. This is deeply problematic in most organizations as they do not allow technologists the systemic access that other groups enjoy.
Team dynamics, management theory and organizations are changing rapidly to support these concepts but we have a long way to go. Fortunately in some ways IT is ahead of other business units. We have worked across the organization for many years. We need companies to begin understanding that starting the business meeting without the architect (or similarly skilled technologist) in the room is a mistake that is hard to fix. Most organizations do not yet understand this.
Thinking horizontally allows architect specialization to come fully to the fore as long as the architect practice knows how to function as a team. For many years we have attempted positioned business architects as direct contacts with other business leaders so that we may reach all the way from customer driven ideas through strategy to delivery and back to measurement of outcome. However the architect field is still so highly fractured (we have been getting business, enterprise, information, software, infrastructure and solution architects to play well together for a while but it is HARD) that we are in many ways our own worst enemies. To come together we must a) unite behind a common value proposition which allows specialists to do what they do best, b) represent each other effectively inside and outside the organization, c) gather success methods and techniques and stop arguing semantics (at least publicly), d) adopt a specialization friendly experienced based certification as our primary hiring and contracting barrier. This isnt difficult except in the hardest way of all, getting people to agree to do it.
It’s All About the Numbers: IT is measured wrong if we want to become more than a good engineering group. To become a business unit or business thinkers we must measure our successes on outcomes like any other. When you invest in the stock market a person doesnt measure the results by the stability of the investment, the time to do trades, etc. They measure investments by how much they paid off and when. Business measures are the same though they are significantly more complicated than just ‘did we make money’. Operational measures, customers experience measures, simplicity, agility, standard business measures including stock price all come into play. If it is a non-profit or government or military unit, other measure need to come into play. Digital businesses understand the relationship between technology and business measures (though much research is still needed in this area). The successful IT leader will put business measures into effect throughout the IT organization. In addition the role of digital business expert (what Iasa calls an architect) must be filled by someone with deep knowledge and experience in this area. This does not mean that digital leadership is owned by architects but they must be at the core of the engine for it to succeed. This does not mean everyone with a title architect today can do this. Many of these people have only succeeded based on the governance and engineering focus of the IT group, they are in some ways just very senior engineers. However that doesnt mean they can’t do it just havent been given the training and freedom to do it. Architects trained with Iasa use non-IT measures for success as experts.
Putting numbers first is critical to IT being accepted by other business leadership in a systemic way. Our standard measures are primarily technical in nature (bugs, up-time, etc) and we need to begin to translate these across the organization to steer into a business future.