From guardians of technology to suppliers of capability

teamwork puzzleUnfortunately I can’t take the credit for the title of this post which I have adapted from a tweet that came from the Ovum Congress 2012. The full tweet was “IT will change the emphasis from guardians of technology to suppliers of capability”. This reflects the impact that disruptive technologies, and in particular, cloud are having on enterprise technology and hence IT departments themselves.

This phrase resonated with me for two reasons. Firstly, as a CIO I have always believed that my role and that of the IT department should focus on more than just technology. One of my main objectives is therefore to ensure the organisation maximises the return it achieves from its investment in technology. This goes beyond the technical skill set required to the keep boxes and wires running; skills such as business and process analysis, solution design and enterprise architecture are needed in a more strategic, value-adding IT department that can work alongside the business to realise benefits.

To maximise return on investment the CIO and the IT department have to work with business units to identify the capabilities required to meet business goals. Some of these capabilities will be enabled by technology whilst some will need new skills, behaviours, processes, etc. within the business. And it’s important for the CIO to also help identify the non-technology changes that are required as without them the technology solutions will not generate the expected benefits. By working with business units in this way the CIO becomes well-placed to lead the wider transformation process, something I believe we are uniquely placed to do (see my previous post on Transformation and the CIO).

So, it has always been my view that the CIO and the IT department should be more than just “guardians of technology”. But with disruptive technologies and trends such as cloud computing and consumerisation the transition to “suppliers of capability” is getting a whole lot easier and faster. And this is the second reason why this phrase resonates with me; it captures perfectly the challenge facing CIOs and IT departments if they are to stay relevant in their organisations. This was the context in which the phrase was being used at the Ovum Congress, which this year was structured around the major disruptive trends.

IT departments will always have to act as their organisation’s guardians of technology to an extent. But in the future this will be achieved by selecting, integrating and managing appropriate services and not by procuring, installing, deploying and supporting servers and applications. This will see a further shift in the skills needed by in-house IT functions. If IT departments do not add the skills needed in a cloud-based, consumerised environment then they will be bypassed by the rest of the business. But if they do adapt then they will find themselves spending more time working alongside the rest of the business, supplying capabilities and adding real value to their organisations.

For those of us who believe that IT departments should be more than just a technical support function there has never been a better time to be a CIO. The disruptive trends are changing the business technology environment and with this comes opportunity for CIOs. Cloud in particular enables the CIO to move the discussion from infrastructure and applications, capital expenditure and lead-times to services that can be deployed quickly, and as an operating cost, to enable new capabilities.

However, to take this opportunity we need to engage with our C-level colleagues and lead the debate about how these disruptive trends can be used to add value to the organisation. This will ensure we move ourselves from being viewed purely as a guardian of technology to a supplier of capability.


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