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Adopting an Agile Mentality in IT


Agile IT is not an Oxymoron

Every business is trying to move faster.
Almost every facet of business relies on IT.
Corporate IT is notoriously slow.

Having been in IT for the last 20+ years, it is definitely painful to write the last line - “Corporate IT is notoriously slow”. Ouch. Being IT professionals, our natural inclination is to jump into explaining the logical reasons for the perceived slowness of IT (with a heavy emphasis on the word ‘perceived’) because all of us know there are ‘good reasons’ for the perceived slowness. Our explanations, that happen to sound like excuses, start to formulate.

But instead of defending IT slowness, I’d propose a potentially healthier approach - we should accept the fact that IT can always improve and more importantly lead the change in our respective organizations. Accepting the fact that IT can always improve, presupposes that corporate IT isn’t as fast as it could be. See the challenge as a welcome opportunity instead of seeing it as a drumbeat of criticism. I’d propose that there is value in not only accepting responsibility for increasing the speed at which IT operates but also taking action. We should continually strive to be as fast as possible through on-going improvements and adaptations. We need to spend our cycles wringing out the slowness from our IT processes in the form of more flexible architectures, policies and approaches - and probably most importantly mindset.

In some ways, it feels invigorating to investigate new ways to speed up versus restating the common defenses about why our processes are the way they are. Our collective stretch goal should be striving to hear our business functional partners proactively say, “Our IT team is super fast and nimble. We include them in everything we do”. If that sounds ridiculous, then we’ve really dug a big hole for ourselves or worse, given up on what is actually possible for us to affect.

The fundamental IT model has radically changed. In many companies, IT does not control all of the business systems. IT does not make all the technology decisions - we have all heard the message about the CMO’s technology budget being larger than the CIO’s budget. Social, mobile, data and cloud have had a compounding effect in terms of changing how businesses operate. The corollary is that IT systems need to radically change to support the radical change in how business is done.

And yet some IT organizations follow the same approach, the same philosophy and the same architectural solutions even though so much has fundamentally changed. Let’s take mobility as one example - sadly there are still IT groups that push back on enabling mobile devices within their companies. “We don’t support Android devices.” Seriously? It becomes more and more obvious over time that pushing back on enabling mobile is absurd, but some IT orgs still persist in being that last ones to leverage this productivity-enhancing solution. Sales teams are especially penalized by IT’s slowness to enable mobile since they are often “on the road” and typically significantly dependent on mobile capabilities.

Much more impressive are the IT groups that are adopting a “mobile first” approach, the IT groups that are setting up Mobility Centers of Excellence to become experts in mobility, the IT groups that have standardized on a common mobility development platform to accelerate mobile app delivery and the IT groups that are preparing for the security implications of mobility by establishing mobile security standards and leveraging MDM and MAM.

Social is also driving major changes in how businesses operate and therefore how IT needs to function. Unfortunately, there is so much hype and confusion around social that some business and IT folks have simply decided to tune it out. Others use their own personal lack of usage of social tools to argue against the value of leveraging social to connect with customers. Whether or not you or your executive team personally leverage social tools is irrelevant. What is relevant is that there are millions of people including their customers, their partners and their employees that do. So, if you want to connect, listen and collaborate with them, you need to embrace social.

Business analytics has dramatically changed because of the desire to mine big data and because business teams require real-time information. As a matter of fact, real-time and near-real-time information has now become table-stakes for many companies. The capabilities now exist that allow companies to take raw data and make it into valuable information in seconds and some of those capabilities no longer require IT’s involvement. IT needs to lean into this space with agile solutions that enable the business to answer questions that were not answerable a few years ago - I like to refer to this as a “Free the Data” strategy.

Corporate IT groups have an incredible opportunity to lead their respective organizations through this radically changing landscape with approaches that are agile and business relevant. Possibly our biggest challenge is changing the mindset of corporate IT and not technology. If we take 100% responsibility for the speed of our IT organizations, then we will model an attitude that drives innovation and out-of-the-box thinking within our teams. Through process, mindset and architectural changes, we can be perceived as fast and agile.

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