One of the great attractions of technology is that it never stands still: there’s always something new on the horizon. Yet this means that the IT world is in a constant state of flux, with an ongoing conveyor belt of desirable items appearing for IT to improve business agility. For instance, according to Gartner’s latest hype cycle people are currently talking about the Internet of Things, but will soon be focusing on connected homes and virtual personal assistants.
Whether you’re improving on existing capabilities or going about business in a completely different way, incorporating new technological trends into the business can certainly pay dividends. However, this doesn’t mean listening to or believing every word from your sales representative. If not properly thought through, technology updates can quickly start to go wrong, turning what should have been an improvement to fix a minor issue into a much more serious crisis.
The important point to remember is that long-term problems can’t be fixed overnight by replacing the technology involved in administering and processing them. Take the example of cloud. It was once much-heralded, bringing all businesses a scalability that was previously only accessible to businesses with a large in-house infrastructure. Over the past few years people handed over cash and rubbed their hands with glee as HR systems, sales platforms, accounting programmes and complete IT infrastructures were outsourced to cloud based service providers. Business is booming for cloud vendors – Amazon for one credited its latest profit announcement to the ongoing success of its cloud platforms.
Yet according to the Gartner hype cycle, cloud computing has now dipped into the trough of disillusionment. Businesses are realising that cloud is not the magical quick fix they believed, and that matters aren’t quite as simple as uploading your problems to the cloud and making them go away. For some, moving services to the cloud without the correct planning and preparation has resulted in a loss of control and spiralling costs for unexpected returns.
Another risk is pursuing technology change for change’s sake. The UK Government’s Universal Credit scheme is an example of this. The project ploughed ahead with an agile development technique just because it was en vogue, without taking the time to consider whether it was really capable of working with an agile development philosophy. There’s always a risk of getting swept along with trends within technology, and being able to resist this is critical to successful IT projects.
Three golden rules
In order to make change work for the business it needs to be seen as an ongoing process that demands clear, considered action at every step. Technology is no different: changes should be made because they suit the business’s needs, not because they represent the latest and greatest or give IT a new tool to play with. There are three golden rules to approaching change:
1) Knowledge is power. It makes no sense to implement changes when you don’t even know what you are making changes to. Decision-makers must carry out an internal audit of what is currently being delivered, the way in which this is being done, and if it meets the business’s requirements.
Without that information, it will be nigh-on impossible to make an intelligent call about what to change: there could be a very simple switch to make that will save all that hassle, time and financial outlay being needed in the first place.
Similarly, you must know your goals. When you’re on a long distance journey, it’s advisable to know your final destination. Without that knowledge, it can prove difficult to know exactly which direction to drive in. Make sure you take the time to work out the precise point your organisation would like to arrive at, and build out a roadmap from there.
2) Know your limits. You need to know precisely what your organisation, and people, are capable of; what they desire; and what level of change they will accept before you can decide whether change is both necessary and realistic; and if so, whether any additional help is required. At the minimum you should know the skills, experience and knowledge your organisation possesses: after all, if a project will either add no new capabilities, or require expertise entirely outside your remit, it may not be the best course of action. You should also evaluate the impact of any changes. No change is without risk or business disruption, so ensure that you have assessed this against the expected benefits.
3) Stay in control. Whatever type of change you’re going through, it’s vital to ensure that you retain ultimate control and responsibility for the work. This can be easier said than done if change involves the cloud or multiple consultants and contractors. However, since the buck will always stop with the CIO, this is where ultimate responsibility has to lie. If a project is at risk of spiralling out of control, then the business needs to once again question whether this is the change the business needs, and whether it is being done in the best way.
Change can be a great thing but, as Elvis Presley once sung, only fools rush in. Something presented as a quick fix can often become a lot longer, and more complex, to execute than anticipated. Ensuring that you know your current location and destination; your limits; and responsibilities before investigating new technologies is a crucial starting point, and one you can build from to make a positive change for any business.