Questions are the first step towards service oriented IT

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This post is one of a series about developing a service-oriented operating model for IT. Previous posts have covered:

This post is about the first step in the IT transformation process - engaging with the rest of the organisation. This means IT leadership engaging with other leaders across the enterprise and not just the rest of the IT department. Whether or not your vision is to move to a service-oriented operating model this is the first step in the process.

…but we are not ready

Hang on! The first step - really? We don’t have anything to show yet. We haven’t designed a new IT structure and we can’t tell anyone about the new ways of working. We are not ready to do any engagement

True, you are not ready to share any answers but also you are not ready to develop any either. IT does not operate in a silo and delivers no value in isolation. Looking at the IT operating model as something that only extends across the CIO’s reporting line will not help you tackle key issues which get in the way of good performance. Some examples include:

  • driving IT standardisation further than business operation standardisation leaving some business units to fill gaps in critical services and others to carry excessive service costs
  • making unreasonable demands for clear requirements before committing any IT support to new initiatives
  • becoming unresponsive by making support too remote from business operations
  • not matching resources to demands from the business
  • slavishly working to specification and process rather than common sense and the underlying business needs.

These kinds of issue do not have standard answers which are portable between enterprises. Success does not depend on what IT specialists do but on how they collaborate with others in the enterprise. A service-oriented operating model will help but you will only get the details right with input from key stakeholders. The dialogue will need to cover a wide range of dimensions. Some of these are about the target operating model such as:

  • where will control sit within the enterprise?
  • how will priorities be managed and, in particular, priority clashes?
  • how will funding be allocated?
  • how should investment be structured?
  • who will be accountable for technology adoption and benefits realisation?
  • what is the approach to risk?
  • who will deal with any dependencies?

There will also be constraints on the transformation process itself such as:

  • the business case for IT transformation
  • the appetite and capacity for change
  • convergence between the IT transformation and other changes such business unit restructuring and mergers.

You won’t be ready to share answers about the IT operating model until you have explored these kinds of questions with your peers across the business.

…but they are not ready##

It is worrying how many IT transformations get deep into design without considering the changes needed outside of the CIO reporting line. Even when IT leaders realise that they need to engage more widely there can be obstacles. Stakeholders outside of the IT function can appear reluctant to participate. They might not understand what IT is trying to do or might not be very interested. This can be reinforced by negative attitudes within IT. Some members of the IT team will not immediately realise that the wider business needs to be involved and others will doubt that their colleagues can make any useful contribution. These kinds of obstacles may be symptoms of deeper issues. For example:

  • key stakeholders may be facing challenges in their own markets and business operations
  • real or perceived IT performance may be below acceptable levels
  • executives may doubt the ability of the IT leadership team to deliver change successfully.

None of these cases mean that engagement should be postponed to a later stage. These may well be obstacles to engagement but if they are not resolved they will prove fatal to the later stages of the transformation. Your peers might not be ready to accommodate or actively promote any changes in the operating model but they are ready to influence your thinking and improve your plans if you give them the opportunity.

…so start with questions rather than answers##

The best way to start is to use broad open questions such as:

  • how can we best support a particular business unit?
  • how can we best support the whole enterprise?
  • how can we best support our end customers?

As the engagement progresses you can probe into specific dimensions such as capital, cash, people, information, risks, time horizons and even technology.

You will get useful answers from these discussions. Perhaps not specifics and details about the IT operating model but definitely insights into the design criteria for the model. An additional outcome is that the questions will affect the state of mind of your stakeholders. They will usually need to take time and think hard to answer these questions. They will need to shift their focus from how things are now to how they might be better in the future. If you manage the discussion well they will begin to think about how they will need to work with you to achieve this change.

Ok, now we are ready for the first step##

What are your views on when and how to engage colleagues in IT transformation? Which step should I cover next? Add a comment to this blog or use the Twitter button.

Related blog post###

When operating modes don’t line up, collaboration is unlikely to happen by @ITCatalysts

The do-or-die questions boards should ask about technology by @WillmottPaul

[The Flaw in your IT Strategy]( by @stephen_abraham

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