Was it an insult I thought, being congratulated for not being technical? It felt like an insult! Of course it wasn’t but it got me thinking about what it means to be leading a technology team in a large organisation where the best way to get engagement is to take away all references to technology, to ensure that the business benefit is at the heart of all conversations relating to the delivery.
There is a risk though, every time we re-iterate to the team that we are delivering business change projects that use technology to assure the benefits, that it is potentially another nail in the coffin of technology as an expertise area. And, if we forget technology because we are busy ensuring benefits are related, then just maybe the technology won’t work. After all it will not look after itself! The role of ‘IT Professional’ has been a recognised role now for an unbelievable 80 years.
The role is now at a pinnacle position in the majority of global organisations, and as we all know, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. The question though is where does that responsibility best sit, with the business change capability or with the delivery of technology?
So, the trick is where to draw the line. The CIO of any organisation needs to be technically capable and aware of technology and the innovation that can be delivered through its implementation. The need to innovate can only be limited by the organisation’s capacity for change and the business need to do so. The CIO must be able to facilitate change and lead change in some cases due to the disruption technology can bring. However being able to tell the difference between a CAT5 and CAT7 cable is still important! The CIO has to maintain credibility in his or her own peer groups and some of that comes from business drive and success but some will come from the technical battle scars and badges that the CIO has. Without these badges and scars a good manager with a bright mind could lead any technology team, and actually maybe they can!
Early in my career I worked in a team of four project managers. We were not like the IT Crowd, but the next sentence may call that into question. We argued, probably daily, who was the number one technically capable out of the four of us. The challenges ranged from identifying the CAT cable type to being the office Excel Wizard and master of the pivot table. The fact that as number three on a good day back then I am now CIO of an organisation, speaks volumes for the role of the modern CIO compared to the perceptions of the role maybe as recently as five years ago. And yet in the last couple of weeks I feel the need to try to revitalise the importance of technology knowledge and capability in the CIO role.
To be a good CIO requires the ability to translate technology into business delivery. Not to allow all projects to assume technology is business delivery with a wired layer above it. We have successfully migrated the provision of email in the last couple of weeks, but there were bumps on the way. The vast majority of those bumps were technology based, sizing servers for the migration process and replacement kit issues. School boy errors! How did we let this happen? We focused so much on the business benefit. This was not to be a technical project – the training delivery and business change element of this project was immaculate, but we missed two technical elements that, on day one, gave us a bump because we were concentrating on ensuring the business had everything it needed.
The team were great, spotted the issues and ensured that user impact was minimal, but, if we had run the technology part of the project as we would have in the past then we would not have been distracted and missed the elements that caused the bumps. The technology team can and should deliver for the business, it should talk the business talk, be useful for more than wires, but, it should never forget it is there to make the technology work for the customer.
Searching for the balance between technical capability and business focus is like looking for black cats in a dark room! So how to find the cat! In health the balance between technology and business capability is a fine line, and not even a straight line I would suggest. Each delivery project or service needs to be evaluated not just for the final delivery but against the stakeholders within it. With our email project we knew that the stakeholders needed to be ‘sold’ on the business benefit of the migration and that the words we used could not be technology based. Ultimately, migrating was a business imperative, but, the business needed to be taken on a journey.
What was once known as next practice with technology is now best practice and the role of the technology professional now needs to be multi-faceted more than ever before.
However I am now counselling the team to also remember we are here as technology professionals, and we must not forget the technology, let the ‘geek’ part of us be at peace and shine through. It makes sense as organisations flourish that they begin to look to technology to be innovative in the delivery of a disruptive change rather than fighting a rear-guard action to save money and we need to be there for that, but when a project is about delivering a technical change we have learnt we need to get the technology 100% right and support the business change, and in that order!