IT must earn its right to innovate

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When I tell people I help CIOs run IT organizations more effectively, I often get a response along the lines of “oh, you have to help OUR company’s IT department!” The issues I hear boil down to two: either the existing systems are unreliable or new projects aren’t meeting needs fast enough.

I also spend a fair amount of time speaking with people who work within IT organizations. When I talk with them about their frustrations, they don’t cite unreliable systems or late projects. They often say that they have great ideas but don’t have the opportunity to lead change within their organizations. They want to use technology to make a difference and have great ideas as to how to do it at their companies.

Clearly, this is a gap in priorities and this is perhaps the fundamental issue around the elusive “alignment” problem we’ve been hearing about for years. The method to solve this problem is very simple, but IT has to take its medicine. IT must earn its right to innovate by first delivering on the basic needs of the business.

Most successful IT turnarounds go through three phases:
1. First, they demonstrate the ability to run reliable systems. This simply qualifies them as a commodity player.
2. Second, they demonstrate their ability to deliver new projects on time and on budget, meeting the ever changing needs of their users. This makes them a valued partner.
3. Finally, they can move into the realm of value where they bring innovation to their companies. This is when they become the true trusted advisor.

For companies who have serious rifts between the IT organization and its business counterparts, it could take years to go through these phases. Small mis-steps along the way can throw them back a phase or two. That said, if everyone within the IT organization is aligned around the intention to step through these phases and get to the vision of being a trusted advisor, success is much more likely.

IT organizations who want to really make a difference within the companies they serve must clearly lay out where they are and work hard to step through each phase. There are no shortcuts.

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