Posted onin Leadership/Management
What rules do you live by? How do you define the culture and values you want in your IT department? We each hire the best talent, we all embrace diversity in people, skills and ideas, we all strive for business alignment, but how do we build a framework to assure we are targeting those most important elements that we as CIOs believe brings out our best, and delivers the greatest value to our companies? We each come from different backgrounds and experiences, face different corporate, budget, market, and industry challenges, and have our own ideas of what construes IT excellence. We each in common face the constant challenge of technology change, consumer technology empowerment, new markets and approaches to business, and the ever shortening shelf life of opportunity as pressures with which we must contend, adapt to or embrace, and which continually redefine our approach to IT.
For the past 30 years I have believed and promoted prudent IT. There is an element of caution in that nomenclature, a bit of old school. There is a response to the term ‘prudent’ that is almost visceral. Where is the “innovation” in prudent IT? How can we be prudent when the world is moving so fast? Does prudency and control in IT make sense anymore, or is it an anchor, a barrier to innovation, a hindrance to the pursuit of new opportunity? These are new questions. I didn’t hear them very much even just a few years back. Now I hear them more frequently – sometimes constantly – seldom in these words – but in the requests being made, tone of conversation, lack of eye contact, and in so many linguistic constructs. In the span of perhaps a year or two, consumer technology encroachment has become consumer technology engorgement, and is rapidly on its way towards consumer technology engulfment. So much of our attentions are being redirected, as we try to maintain sensibility, standards and operational controls. This is a new, exciting, but unfriendly world. Prudent IT has always been about balancing operational effectiveness, innovation and advantage, risk management, and cost control. It has always been the safety net to the decisions we make. Despite the cry to ring out the old (sometimes literally), innovate with the new, it is precisely the grounding of “prudent” IT that empowers “innovators” to play safely on the busy streets of this new, exciting, but unfriendly world. I heard one of our colleagues at a recent CIO conference describe Facebook as on a per capita basis, the third largest country in the world. What an exciting concept. It was eye opening. Well, of course, if that is the case, our businesses need to be there. What incredible opportunity! So this should be a simple business equation — where would it be prudent for we as IT teams to be putting our efforts – in adopting the newest, latest and greatest of every device and preference as soon as it hits the market — or in making sure that you can play safely in the streets of the third largest country in the world! Well, we have heard the answer loud and clear. The answer of course now is — both…and more. Changing climates force adaptation. The grass just got taller. So now we have to stand up.
I have always governed my department by a set of rules we call the House Rules.These rules set my expectations of the department. They lay out what is important to me, what I have gleaned from the business, and where I want us to focus our efforts. The rules are a lens through which to examine every development, engineering or operational decision, every system, all data, all communications, every transaction, every day. I have the confidence that if these rules are adhered to in every plan, choice, decision and execution, success is assured. I re-examine them each year and reissue them to assure they are relevant to business conditions. The House Rules are also a common language – a vocabulary that removes any differences between operations – engineering – developers – planning – everyone now understands the same terms and knows what I am focused on and what I will be asking about. There is no ambiguity. If IT is the technical manifestation of the corporate business plan, then the House rules are an expression of the demands of the business. Our house rules have increased from eight a few years ago to now fourteen. Last year I reissued them twice. This alone should tell you something. This is an example of a few of the rules:
– operability: Do we have the skills, documentation and readiness for support?
– recovery: If a critical component fails is there a means to restore its function?
– privacy: Is access limited to that which is required and intended?
– security: Are all physical, technical and contractual safeguards in place?
– liability: Can our licensing, use and practices ever be questioned?
– continuity: Can contracts, relationships, technologies and processes endure change?
– viability: Do we meet the needs of the business in the most effective way?
– ingenuity: Are we using our best in new and innovative ways to create and compete?
Expectations are changing so fast. Our rules are part of the framework that defines our culture and our culture is being redefined for us. Changing markets, demanding business, and rabid technology adoption is now the price of entry, and then we go on from there. I issued this next rule earlier this year.
– reliability: Are we there when needed, ready and capable, to help and to support?
It’s time for a realty check. Can we in the face of accelerating to overwhelming change maintain traditional levels of “reliability”? Can we continue to be “prudent” and still stay ahead of the pace of innovation and encroachment? Is it time to redefine our roles in IT? Was it really a meteor that took out the dinosaurs?