Whether it’s speaking to friends, shopping, travelling or entertaining ourselves, it often feels as if the way we do everything has changed over the last 10 years. In our daily lives technology has become personal, supportive and connected – endlessly configurable with the apps, information and connections we need to help us live our lives the way we want.
Understandably, employees who use such consumer services at home are increasingly expecting the same degree of choice, configurability and convenience at work – and for the applications they use to be updated just as frequently. They deeply feel the way in which digital technologies can make even the most complex tasks personalised and straightforward – but often experience a huge gulf between the modern, mobile and cloud based solutions they use in their personal lives and the IT they are forced to use at work.
Filling this increasing expectation gap by delivering more digital systems, more quickly is probably the defining challenge of enterprise IT today. The ability to create and connect systems and processes at the speed and scale required to underpin digital business evolution is literally an issue of business survival.
Currently, however, there is a huge gap between the resources required to deliver this wave of digital change and the resources available to most enterprise IT organisations. Swamped by legacy systems, siloed data, locked-down processes and locked-down budgets they often struggle to simply keep existing systems running. The response to change is therefore often one of prevention – effectively CIOs are forced to maintain the integrity of the company’s traditional information systems at the expense of meeting its digital needs.
As Jon Wrennall pointed out recently this means that many business people increasingly turn to ‘shadow IT’ – spreadsheets, ‘quick and dirty’ application development or third-party cloud services. While shadow IT can create huge potential security and scalability headaches it’s hard to stop it without offering an alternative – especially when many of these home-grown systems deliver real value to users and form the de facto backbone of many essential front office processes.
Jon’s alternative proposal was to accept that enterprise IT cannot take on the digital world by itself and to embrace the business as partners in a new and more collaborative technology delivery model. This sounds great but what does it look like in practice? In our experience it requires two things – a new kind of platform and a new model of collaboration.
Firstly, genuine empowerment of the business has to start by giving them access to the digital tools they need to safely create value. This requires a new kind of business application platform, one which provides separate environments that empower both business and IT people to create, integrate and share applications of differing levels of complexity in a safe and secure environment. Such a platform enables non-technical people to build a broad range of simple solutions for themselves – allowing unmet needs to be fulfilled, long standing inefficiencies to be addressed and frustrating collaboration gaps to be closed.
Secondly, a shared platform changes the collaboration dynamic and enables a new and more productive set of behaviours to emerge. Rather than spending time locking down environments or stamping out rogue development enterprise IT can allow innovation to happen anywhere and use data to understand what’s working. CIOs can instead focus their efforts on solving core technology challenges at pace while co-opting successful innovations – adopting what works and onward developing it by integrating it more deeply into the processes and systems of the enterprise.
In this way digital evolution happens rapidly and dynamically, powered by an army of new developers who are motivated to fix gaps, connect silos and transform experiences at the edge of the organisation – changes which IT can use in turn to kick start a deeper transformation as they ripple through to core processes and systems. This effectively turns the problem of shadow IT on its head. Instead of seeing distributed innovation as a risk it becomes a way of testing ideas and reducing the risk of change. The impact of such a shift can be transformational.
But getting there takes leadership, and that has to come from the CIO and the IT department. It means leaving centralised, big bang approaches behind and opening up your technology to others. It means embracing evolution and freeing people to innovate at digital speed. In a recent Insight Guide, my colleagues and I agreed that creative disobedience is a necessary virtue in the digital era; the good news is that by using the right kind of platform and approach you can actively encourage people to break rules without breaking the business.
So use digital platforms to create a factory for innovation and let ideas flow. By becoming ‘chief digital enabler’ the CIO can accelerate change, transform engagement and facilitate the creation of better products and services for customers – and in so doing help their company discover its true competitive edge.
Dr Ian Thomas @iansthomas from Fujitsu RunMyProcess originally discussed this topic in a white paper which is available here. Fujitsu RunMyProcess is a unique cloud platform that enables customers in more than 45 countries to remove technology barriers to digital transformation.