The CIO dilemma: Big bang change or incremental improvement?

Big bang change or incremental improvement

In an ideal world, the CIO would already have a strategic vision in mind when he or she embarks on the task of transforming an organisation to become more responsive, creative and customer-focused. In reality, however, IT redesign is all too often governed by current concerns rather than long-term ideals.

While the business is keen to take advantage of a host of digital technologies, such as mobile, cloud and business intelligence, attempts to put in place a transformation are often hamstrung by legacy IT concerns. It is not easy to move to an on-demand and green field set up when many of your production systems still run on a traditional enterprise network.

This is a challenge CIOs must meet head on. It is technology, above all the things connected to the business, which has the greatest potential to revolutionise operational processes, boost profitability and increase employee satisfaction.

Many IT directors will look at demands for digital transformation and see the constraints of their legacy systems. For these CIOs, what is the smartest way to go about IT transformation? Should technology chiefs take incremental steps that don’t disrupt the smooth running of business or should they aim for a total overhaul?

Opinions about the best strategy differ. While some believe in a fresh new start, more cautious executives make convincing arguments concerning cost, disruption and possible downtime. In many cases, it’s up to the CIO and his or her department to make sure the benefits of technological innovation are properly used.

Thanks to the ubiquitous nature of IT, CIOs sit in a unique position in most organisations and have a rooftop view across the entirety of an organisation’s operations. That outlook provides multiple touch points with business units and end customers. Such interactivity should be the starting point for an IT-led re-invention of the organisation. By speaking with those that matter, CIOs can understand which new systems to call on and when.

The implementation of transformation, however, is the difficult part of the journey. As mentioned before, many core production systems sit deep within day-to-day operations. Experimenting with disruptive technologies, without the risk of affecting business processes, isn’t easy.

In each organisation there can be silos of people who are resistant to new ideas and change. Instead of feeling disheartened, CIOs need to evolve into entrepreneurs who can sell the value of the change and evangelise its business benefits. They should not only approach innovative ideas with the same focus and speed, but not be afraid of making mistakes.

IT leaders should approach each internal project like an entrepreneur would approach a new investment. Instead of focusing on the disruptive potential of digital technologies, businesses should talk about the opportunity to replace inefficient, frustrating legacy processes.

A big bang change in IT is an opportunity to achieve wider strategic goals with true transformational potential. Rather than continually planning the next incremental step, businesses should dare to let go of old structures and once again learn to pursue their goals by following a transformational vision.

By getting the rest of the business on board, CIOs can create a transformational strategy that negates the problems associated to legacy technology and which makes the most of digital systems and services.